A new study suggests a data overload is leaving us stressed, but could minimal text-free emails be the solution?
Want to know what a supermoon is? Google has the answer. Want to know what your friend had for dinner? Facebook can fill you in.
It has never been easier to get information – it’s quite literally at our fingertips and it has become normal to know more about the daily habits of strangers on the internet than you do about your nearest and dearest.
We seem to be eager to plug into the overwhelming information the digital age has to offer us too: Facebook has over a billion registered accounts and Twitter around 316 million monthly active accounts.
But it also seems to be one of the biggest irritations of modern life – business managers have previously complained the battle of the inbox has decreased productivity and others have raised concerns over the health impact of never switching off.
Now the latest findings by information analysts Esri UK suggests it has all become too much, with over a third of us feeling stressed by the reams of information we are faced with.
According to the study, we are experiencing a “data overload” – struggling to cope with the vast amount of emails and social media through being constantly connected to these channels.
This digital culture is affecting our sleep and relationships, 44 per cent conceded in the survey. The most common effects include becoming restless, anxious or unable to relax, as 36 per cent reported.
Paradoxically, the daily deluge has also made us unable to absorb information as easily, as 34 per cent acknowledged in the study of 1,000 adults across the country.
The eternal battle of the inbox, the constant refreshing of Twitter, have taken their toll. Around two-thirds of those surveyed say that the need to read and keep track of information from too many sources is a major concern in their daily lives.
For many (44 per cent) the solution is to completely switch off – 14 per cent even said they hid their devices to avoid checking them .
Dr Dimitrios Tsivrikos, a consumer and business psychologist at UCL, says academic research has shown this to be a real problem, but believes the way information is displayed could have an impact.
He says: “Paying attention to a vast amount of data requires multitasking, rapidly switching attention from one source to another, which has been found to increase levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.
“Receiving novel information activates the brain’s reward pathway, which leads to a continuous cycle in which we are compelled to seek out more and more information, eventually resulting in a state of restlessness.”
“We will see the end of long text-based emails”
But, he says, there is a solution: less text, more pictures. “Research has proven that by visually presenting information, data processing demands on the brain can be reduced,” he explains.
Dr Tsivrikos has been addressing the issue through his classes at UCL for the past two years. His teaching includes components on the ways around data overload, such as how people relate and understand the world around them through visual information.
The latest study seems to back this up – 66 per cent said they found it easier to understand documents and stories that contain maps and graphics. This is mainly because our brains have to work less hard to process pictures.
“We’ve seen that from a lot of academic research we’ve been doing at UCL,” says Dr Tsivrikos.
Does this spell the end of long, wordy emails? “I think we’re moving towards that,” he says. “With an image it’s easier for us to memorise and engage – we see that with the younger generation. We will see the end of long text-based emails – the days of heavy text are soon over.”
This article was written by Rozina Sabur from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.