A man and his wife waited to order in a Nashville restaurant. The waiter handed them five enormous pages and began to explain each page in great detail. The pages contained a wine list, an appetizer list, main entrees, desserts, and other miscellaneous information that had to be consumed before placing an order.
This is how the story began which led to a Vanderbilt University research article where they ultimately found that too many choices can cause “option fatigue,” confusion, and information overload.
Information overload is a problem we all face and can exacerbate certain psychological issues like stress, attention deficit disorder, worry, depression, and anxiety. Information overload can also have a negative impact on cognitive abilities.
In “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Atlantic Books, 2011), technology writer Nicholas Carr explores how information overload distracts and interrupts, forcing us to scan and skim, thereby diminishing important cognitive abilities such as attentiveness, concentration, reflection, and memory. Carr argues that we are losing our abilities to pay close attention and concentrate over a prolonged period of time, whether reading a book or engaging in conversation, without being constantly distracted, usually by the Internet and some information communication technology. This turns us into superficial thinkers,” says Marc Kosciejew, head of the Department of Library Information Archive Sciences at the University of Malta.
Becoming the Solution
As people that work with data, we constantly have to go through a seemingly endless amount of information to find the relevant bits (no pun intended) we need. As we create data visualizations, we are often guilty of causing information overload. After all, most of the visualizations look incredible, so the more we can add the better, right?
To minimize the risk of information overload, we need to focus less on the facts and more on the story behind it. We need to focus on how we can distill all of the data to make it easy for the readers to consume and then have a positive impact on the decision-making process.
By focusing on the business and what they need to make better decisions and improve processes, we can distill complex big data into visualizations that help the organization, stop information overload, and ultimately get your message across.