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Avoiding Information Overload

Information overload has become an inescapable part of life for connected Americans, as every Google search delivers thousands, if not millions, of links and every Pinterest post leads to a seemingly endless chain of “more like this” images.

Coping with information overload might actually be easier for consumers who use more gadgets and services, not less, according to a recent Pew Research study.

Their solution sounds counterintuitive, but when it comes to managing digital information, the fewer ways you have to access the internet, the more overwhelmed you are likely to feel by the amount of facts, figures and data in the modern technological world.

Thanks to ubiquitous high-speed broadband networks in most parts of the U.S., a significant number of Americans have access to three major paths to the information superhighway, according to November data released by Pew.

    • Home broadband: 73 percent of U.S. adults subscribe
    • Smartphones: 77 percent of adults carry one around
    • Tablet computers: 48 percent own one

In its analysis of April 2016 data, Pew found that 39 percent of U.S. adults have access to all three pathways; 28 percent have two out of three; and 17 percent have just one. Sixteen percent of US adults don’t own technologies that help them get online or choose not to do so.

Who feels the most overloaded by information? Those who have no access to any of the three main pathways. A total of 37 percent of those who don’t have home broadband, a smartphone or a tablet computer are stressed by the amount of information in their lives, compared to only 14 percent of those who have access to all three.

At the same time, those with fewer gadgets are more likely than others to say that information makes their lives more complex. More than a third (37 percent) of those who don’t use technologies to access the internet complain about complexity compared to just 23 percent of those with access to all three.

One possible explanation:  the sense of control that mastery of internet tech can provide. Almost everyone (97 percent) of those who use all three pathways to get online say that they feel “confident in my ability to use the internet and other communications devices to keep up with information demands in my life.”

Someone with no access to the internet, or perhaps only use a public computer in a library or community center, may well feel “it is difficult for me to find the information I need” (50 percent) or “feel stressed about all the information I have to keep track of” (47 percent.) Only 30 percent of those without a major pathway have a level of confidence in their ability to use the internet to manage information.

The analysis is based on a Pew Research Center survey conducted March 7-April 4, 2016, among a national sample of 1,520 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Individual penetration stats on home broadband, smartphones and tablet computers are based on a more recent analysis of data from November 2016.

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