Origin of the term, and idea of, 'information overload'?
March 15, 2004 8:11 AM   Subscribe

Miguel's Spoilt for choice thread led me to wonder how/when/why the term 'information overload' originated. Have we always thought that we have too much information to deal with? [More, ironically, inside]

It seems like it's always a current concern, but also that it has always been with us (OED gives 1962 as the first use of the term). However I'm sure it must existed before that, just under a different name; late fifteenth century scholars with six printed books on their shelves; ancient Egyptians overloaded with hieroglyphs and drowning in scrolls; Neanderthals pondering the latest models in stone axes. You could probably confuse a chimp by presenting it with a pile of bananas and a pile of mangoes.
posted by carter to Society & Culture (3 answers total)
information is powerful and companies are just finding out that if they give the user the right about of information, the user will buy their product and their profits will increase.

expect more information to bombard you as the industry begins a process of experimentation on the witless consumer.
posted by Stynxno at 8:47 AM on March 15, 2004

It's estimated that a well-educated person could know all the science there was to know as of 1450 (I could be mistaken about the date, but some time around then). Of course, that may be omitting a lot of superstition that would have been popular at the time, and is certainly omitting literature. But that would be a good milestone for information overload--more factual knowledge than one man can contain in his head.

The real trick these days isn't dealing with the amount of information, it's being able to get at the bit you want efficiently. Very often, the bit you want doesn't exist, and can only be found by putting together other bits to get some kind of result.
posted by adamrice at 11:25 AM on March 15, 2004

tugs turns up a bunch of fascinating links.

"A weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information than the average person was likely to come across in a lifetime in 17th. century England."
posted by andrew cooke at 11:27 AM on March 15, 2004

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