In the 21st century, we’ve seen major developments on the technological front. From the World Wide Web to AI, information is more accessible than ever as we continue to develop unprecedented software. Our ability to find almost anything at the push of a few buttons could turn the present into a new age of enlightenment, or spell out the end for our species as we know it- slowly contributing to our redundancy.
As we look to the future, the past of these modern marvels is often overlooked, their benefits and shortcomings not yet fully understood or investigated. How much information is too much? With all of the knowledge we have at our fingertips, there is a risk of information overload—also known as Cognitive Overload, along with anxiety and stress, and reduced productivity.
There are also benefits: personalized recommendations, enhanced decision-making, and accessible education and information. In a little over 30 years, the internet has taken over our way of sharing and learning.
World Wide Web
Designed in 1991 by Tim Berners-Lee, when the world wide web came into existence, no one knew the extent to which it would be used. Originally utilized by researchers and academics, this system of interconnected hypertext documents accessible through the internet resulted in obtaining and sharing an unforetold amount of information- increasing its usage and popularizing the internet we know and love today.
As the Internet continued to develop and ecommerce arrived (think Amazon), chat rooms and social networking sites spawned into existence. The first major competitors were AOL (a chat room developed in the ‘90s) and MySpace (a social networking site launched in 2003). Now, sharing was easier than ever. You could create profiles, share content, and connect with strangers or close friends. Information was more accessible than ever, but the heavy hitters we know today were still not born.
In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook, an online sharing platform. Although initially limited to college campuses, it rapidly expanded to include more communities. Now a news feed was available, which contained aggregated updates from friends and the ability to comment, like, or share posts. Facebook became a major social networking platform amassing over a billion users worldwide.
Following Zuckerberg came Steven Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim, the inventors of YouTube, a video-sharing website. Unknown at the time, it would become one of the greatest pedagogical tools individuals could use to disseminate information with graphics and audio. YouTube currently has an estimate of over 100 million channels.
Other social media platforms, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok have since launched, giving internet users even more access to information (though not all of it being credible or accurate). In 2020, when the COVID-19 virus hit the world, the internet became a refuge, and social media was used to stay connected. The rise of platforms like Zoom, Google Meets, and Instagram live could not be overstated, and it gave way to the development of AI.
The continued development of artificial intelligence brought ChatGPT alive. ChatGPT is one of many recent AI programs. Launched in November of 2022, ChatGPT shocked the world with its processing ability and (sometimes inaccurate) answers. The system has information all the way up to September 2021.
If you ask a recent question such as “Is Queen Elizabeth alive?” It replies, “My training only goes up until September 2021.” While still developing, it has become a powerful tool to access information after typing a specific question, not wading through search results as one does in a search engine.
However, despite its seemingly spectacular qualities, it's important to note the ethical and societal challenges AI raises, such as privacy concerns, biases in algorithms, job displacement, and the possible misuse of these cutting-edge technologies. The appropriate use of AI requires further debate and laws as the technology develops.
So now that we’re caught up on the history, what does that mean for us in the present and moving forward?
The recounting of technological advancement can seem exhausting. We are constantly bombarded with messages and choices. Anyone can develop a platform and anyone can search a question. Research shows too many choices can lead to choice overload which often results in decision fatigue, going with the default option, and choice deferral (avoiding making a decision entirely)
The cognitive overload results in our inability to focus, hindered decision making, and inability to retain information. We also struggle with reduced productivity. With constant distractions and information, we block our own productivity and become unable to prioritize tasks successfully.
Many individuals also struggle with their mental health. Feelings of stress, anxiety, and a fear of missing out (FOMO) often plague us as we struggle to keep up with the constant influx of information. The Mental Health Foundation found those aged between16 to 29 years old were 28% more likely to have some form of anxiety, an increase found during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though isolation may be a bigger contributor than information overload, the effects of technology and access cannot be overlooked.
If you want to learn any subject, when asked the correct questions, ChatGPT, social media, and the internet can provide some answers. YouTuber “Bri does things” shows you how to use ChatGPT to maximize your learning by guiding the AI using specific prompts. Other benefits of AI include reducing human error, easily sorting through large amounts of data, helping workflow, and full-time accessibility.
Social media isn’t out of the game either. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology, shows that “ninety percent of teens ages 13-17 have used social media, and 75% report having at least one active social media profile, and 51% report visiting a social media site at least daily.” Social media connects us. Allows us to learn from conversation and the experiences of others. There’s a benefit of meeting those you would otherwise never be able to.
Regardless of whether you are pro-technology or not, it will continue to develop and integrate itself into society. Finding the balance between remaining informed and avoiding information overload is essential in this modern age. Although knowledge gives us power, having too much of it can overwhelm us and harm our well-being and productivity.
We may navigate the information age more successfully by selecting our sources carefully, developing our critical evaluation abilities, and adopting information management practices. It's important to keep in mind that it’s not about consuming as much information as possible, but rather embracing the right kind and amount of information that enriches our lives and supports our goals.
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