Overwhelmed by instant access to news and information? Most Americans like it

August 30, 2012 by Erin White, Northwestern University

"Information overload" may be an exaggerated way to describe today's always-on media environment. Actually, very few Americans seem to feel bogged down or overwhelmed by the volume of news and information at their fingertips and on their screens, according to a new Northwestern University study.

The study was published in the journal The Information Society.

"Little research has focused on and , yet it's a concept used in public discussions to describe today's 24/7 environment," said Eszter Hargittai, an associate professor of at Northwestern and lead author of the study.

Most of the previous literature on information overload dynamics has involved fighter pilots or battlefield commanders.

To better understand how everyday Americans perceive the amount of information available through traditional and new media, researchers recruited vacationers in Las Vegas to participate in focus groups. Seven focus groups were conducted with 77 total participants from around the country. The, small informal nature of the focus groups helped to reveal participants' strategies for finding news, entertainment and gossip.

"We found that the high volume of information available these days seems to make most people feel empowered and enthusiastic," Hargittai said. "People are able to get their news and information from a diverse set of sources and they seem to like having these options."

Most of the participants said television was their most used form of media, followed closely by websites. When asked how they felt about the amount of information available to them, few mentioned feeling overwhelmed or that they suffered from "information overload." Here are highlights of the responses:

  • Participants had near-unanimous enthusiasm about the new media environment
  • Online news was regarded more positively than TV news
  • Cable was often criticized for its sensationalism and stream of repetitive stories
  • Trivial social media posts and opinionated political pundits are top sources of frustration when seeking information
"There's definitely some frustration with the quality of some of the information available," said Hargittai. "But these frustrations were accompanied by enthusiasm and excitement on a more general level about overall media choices."

The few participants who did feel overwhelmed were often those with low Internet skills, who haven't yet mastered social media filters and navigating search engine results, Hargittai noted.

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1 / 5 (1) Aug 30, 2012
"Overwhelmed by instant access to news and information? Most Americans like it"
That does not mean that most Americans are correct. Instant news is absolutely great. What's not great is that when there is too much information for one individual person to process, even for news junkies, then they necessarily read some news and skip other news. News outlets as a whole recognize this, so instead of having *the* news like we had for centuries, now we've got compartmentalized news for me and compartmentalized news for you. That is precisely what leads to truth bending, the end of the Fairness Doctrine, the rise of Rush Limburger and Faux News, etc. most Americans dislike propaganda, so the title of this article stops short of actually recognizing what's happening in the big picture, which, in a word, is fascism. Most Americans dislike it.
News quality has fallen dramatically too. 50 years ago of there was a typographical error, editors were fired. Incompetence today is run of the meal (sic)
not rated yet Aug 30, 2012
There has been a substantial lowering of quality of news over the last few decades. The current Nadar of course is Faux News.

The problems started when Republicans relaxed ownership rules and permitted the large scale acquisition of media outlets by corporate interests, who then decided that news must be profitable.

But to be profitable, news had to be changed to Infotainment. and to be entertaining the news had to become less relevant, less important, and less about reality.

Here is a fine explanation.


not rated yet Aug 30, 2012
The Conservative Corruption of the news media isn't confined to America.


not rated yet Aug 30, 2012
not rated yet Aug 31, 2012
I wonder if this an perceived effect similar to that of multitasking in that it gives people the illusion that they are more capable (in this case more informed) when in fact it has no benefit, or might actually be harmful.

The overall quality of news has not improved as the quantity of sources has increased. Just the opposite.

Take some sample and quiz them about in-depth knowledge of some news topic. Ask them to give insightful views from different perspectives (especially views they don't personally share).
1 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2012
News only to the credulous. Believe nothing that your read or hear without verifying it yourself unless it fits your preexisting worldview. The latter clause excuses the ignorant.
not rated yet Aug 31, 2012
News outlets as a whole recognize this, so instead of having *the* news like we had for centuries, now we've got compartmentalized news for me and compartmentalized news for you.
*The* news was copmpartmentalized news for the average Joe. That's no better.

News-on-demand is certainly a better model than news fed to you via channels which are few (read: easy to control/manipulate).
Think of how propaganda worked (in the east AND the west down to stuff printed in history books for schoolchildren which were just outright lies...especially most of WWII and cold war stuff).
Today - while not impossible - feeding such a biased/distorted view to the masses has become harder through the innumerable sources for news you can have. Sure, one source can be very biased, but hardly all of them (in the same way)

It's especially the case if you know several languages and have the option of looking at news from other countries to cross-check.

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