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By James Mullan


The methods by which we create, share and find content have changed significantly in the last 10 years. Whilst there are many opportunities to create and find new content, are we creating more problems then we're actually solving by flooding the internet with content?


Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Linkedin, Blogger, WordPress, Google+, Pinterest – the number of sites available for individuals to create content seems infinite. And whilst adding an album to Facebook, checking in to Foursquare and posting an update on Twitter is fun, we're all effectively contributing to digital information overload.

Information overload is usually defined as a situation where an individual can have difficulties understanding an issue and making decisions, which can be caused by the presence of too much information. Whilst the term information overload is not unique to the digital age we live in, the sheer amount of information created on the internet on a daily basis means that it can feel like we're trying to take a sip (of information) from a fire hose.

Digital information overload is a very real problem. The BBC published a blog post recently about how we're at a content curation crossroads and how digital information overload brings about some unique issues:

  • It's not only about too much data but also about the different types of data.
  • Overload decreases efficiency as individuals and organisations waste time managing it.
  • Duplication of information is an issue as digital information is often printed out, and information on paper is often digitised.
  • In the digital age information sharing has become a lot easier.
  • Always-on, multitasking work environments kill productivity (think BlackBerrys).

There's also a counter-argument to digital information overload: We users are ourselves to blame for over-consuming information. To counter the problem, individuals are encouraged to go on an "information diet". The information diet doesn't recommend using tools and filters to manage information; rather it recommends that individuals change their habits and make different choices about the information they consume.

If you're not prepared to go on an information diet, there are a number of ways in which you can manage digital information overload. These include sites like Anti Social which "turns off" the social parts of the internet and Temptation Blocker which allows you to block sites you might visit regularly, but which eat up your valuable time.

The problem of information overload isn't new, but it's only in the digital age that more people have come to understand its impact. What's important is how we manage digital information going forward and in this respect information professionals will have a role to play.

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James Mullan has worked in the legal sector since 2001. He is an advocate of social media tools and has been talking about how these tools can be used by information professionals and organisations since 2005. James is a Past President of BIALL and in 2009 won the Wildy-BIALL Law Librarian of the year award for his use of social media tools. Outside of work James is a keen runner and maintains his own blog called "The Running Librarian". You can follow James on Twitter @jamesmullan6 or friend him on Facebook.

James can be reached at

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