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As I write this I have 42 Internet tabs open, across four browsers, and I feel completely at ease. Apparently, I’m not alone. A new Pew Research Center study found that most Americans are not overloaded by information, or at least, they don’t feel they are.
In April, Pew surveyed 1,520 Americans 18 and older. According to the study, 20 percent of Americans feel overloaded by information — down from 27 percent a decade ago. In fact, three-quarters of Americans like having a lot of information at their disposal. Two-thirds of the respondents said that having more information actually helps to simplify their lives.
The study found that Americans with multiple paths to information — those having home broadband, a smartphone, and a tablet or computer — report being less overwhelmed by the amount of information present. Eighty-four percent of those with all three of these paths to access liked the amount of information available to them.
This means that people with more access to information, feel less overwhelmed. Ironically, people with less access to information report feeling more overloaded.
The study did not establish a reason why this is the case. But Pew suggests one possible explanation: For those people with less access, the technology can feel overwhelming. “They might suspect that it could take more effort on their part to get the information they need than it would take people who have lots of digital access,” it said.
However, the study suggests that information overload depends on the situation. For example, nearly half of respondents feel they’re expected to do too much information gathering in order to deal with institutions such as banks, schools or government agencies.
Studying information overload is not a new phenomenon. Academics as far back as the 13th century expressed concerns about the sheer amount of information available.
Earlier this year, WNYC’s Note to Self podcast surveyed 1,800 listeners and found that almost 80 percent of respondents said they occasionally get headaches, insomnia or eye twitches as a result of information overload. Yet, they still seek out more information.
Laura Roman is the social media intern at NPR.
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