When Information Overload Causes Anxiety

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the fact that I can access information with a few taps on my phone nowadays. I went to school in the 1990s and the early 2000s, and back in primary school we all still started off with learning the Dewey Decimal Classification system and getting acquainted with the library call numbers. I would mostly have to find these books that held the answers to my questions. Internet access was around, but back then, getting connected to it would take ages. Okay, by ‘ages’, I mean only several minutes, but that’s such a long time compared to how instant connection to the Internet is now.

Today, especially as a PhD student, I am enjoying the ease and accessibility that the Internet, Wi-Fi, and the smartphone provide. As a full-time student in 2019, I am no longer confined to my office for eight hours, five times a week. I can choose to work surrounded by books in the University’s grand Reading Room, or write my papers using my laptop while sitting by the Maths Lawns, or work on a collaborative group conference presentation via a messaging app with other researchers from interstate while buying some lunch from the Unibar, and so on.

Amazing, yes, and yet I cannot help but also feel a bit stressed out just reading the above and feeling that there is always so much that is going on! While the Internet has been able to provide ease of access to information, I am also starting to realise that it can easily get out of hand.

There is an almost never-ending thread of news and things to read. There’s newspaper websites, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and so on, and so forth. Sometimes, it can feel really overwhelming. The rate and speed at which we receive information now has also changed. We get notifications of things happening here and around the world sometimes faster than we can fully understand, digest, and absorb. Then there is also what they call ‘fake news’ floating around. There are times I find myself wanting to put my phone away just so I can have a bit of a break from notifications on my phone.

The challenge now is being able to go beyond Googling information, but also being able to digest the information and be truly critical about the data, the source, the implications, and all other details. Knowing when to step away and when there is sufficient information is also a helpful skill in not letting information anxiety get the better of you.

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