Every day, a new app or service arrives with the promise of helping people cut down on the flood of information they receive. It’s the natural result of living in a time when an ever-increasing number of news providers push a constant stream of headlines at us every day.
But what if it’s the ways we choose to read the news — not the glut of news providers — that make us feel overwhelmed? An interesting new study out of the University of Texas looks at the factors that contribute to the concept of information overload, and found that, for some people, the platform on which news is being consumed can make all the difference between whether you feel overwhelmed.
The study, “News and the Overloaded Consumer: Factors Influencing Information Overload Among News Consumers” was conducted by Avery Holton and Iris Chyi. They surveyed more than 750 adults on their digital consumption habits and perceptions of information overload. On the central question of whether they feel overloaded with the amount of news available, 27 percent said “not at all”; everyone else reported some degree of overloaded.
Holton and Chyi asked about the use of 15 different technology platforms and checked for correlation with feeling overloaded with information. Three showed a positive correlation as predictors of overload: computers, e-readers, and Facebook. Two showed a negative correlation: television and the iPhone. The rest — which included print newspapers, Twitter, iPads, netbooks, and news magazines, among others — showed no statistically significant correlations.
The mention of netbooks — that declining form factor — raises an important factor about the study: Its survey took place in 2010, which was like another world when it comes to news consumption platforms. The iPad was brand new; Android was just starting its rapid growth. The kind of early(ish) adopter who was using Twitter or a Kindle in 2010 is likely to be different from the broader user base those platforms have in 2012.
What the findings suggest, Holton said, is that the news platforms a person is using can play a bigger role in making them feel overwhelmed than the sheer number of news sources being consumed.
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