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The challenge of information balance in the age of affluent communication

: Vossen, P.H.


Strother, J.B.:
Information overload. An international challenge for professional engineers and technical communicators
Hoboken/NJ: Wiley, 2012 (IEEE PCS professional engineering communication series)
ISBN: 978-1-118-23013-8
ISBN: 1-118-23013-2
Book Article
Fraunhofer IAO ()

Information processing is a basic characteristic of human beings and other social organisms. In fact, both need information, continuously and increasingly, in order to master their natural and artificial environments. To satisfy this innate need, people are equipped with specialized emotional, perceptual, and cognitive functions. In addition to these basic functions, they have developed auxiliary facilities for information processing, from languages via books up to modern digital media. However, the undeniable success of these artifacts has its downside. It has led to an information explosion and pollution that reminds us of the famous fable of Goethe, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, with the significant difference that there is no sorcerer to stop the inundation. People feel overwhelmed, confused, frightened, or paralyzed by the very information systems that should help them master their world and solve practical, technical, or theoretical problems. I set out to explore some of the symptoms, causes, and consequences of information overload from an interdisciplinary system perspective. I show that current approaches to alleviate the problems-either educating human agents to become better information managers or developing still more auxiliary systems and tools to cope with the information flood-are doomed to fail, because they leave the original problem-a fundamental imbalance between information production and consumption-untouched. I conclude that basic practice-oriented research on professional information management systems beyond the simple solutions proposed up to now is urgently needed.