December 7, 2016

Information Overload

2. People generally feel good about their abilities to deal with information, but stresses are real for some Americans

When asked how they feel about the volume of information in their lives, people for the most part see information as something that helps them manage their lives and are confident in their abilities to determine the trustworthiness of information.

  • 81% of adults say this statement describes them “very well” (61%) or “somewhat well” (20%): “I feel confident in my ability to use the internet and other communication devices to keep up with information demands in my life.”
  • 79% say this statement describes them “very well” (44%) or “somewhat well” (35%): “Having a lot of information makes me feel like I have more control over things in my life.”
  • 80% say this statement describes them “very well” (41%) or “somewhat well” (40%): “Most of the time, it is easy for me to determine what information is trustworthy.”

Young adults and college graduates are especially likely to express positive feelings about navigating today’s information-rich world.

Institutional expectations, information management and retrieval can be a burden for some

Even with people’s general sense of confidence in dealing with information, the survey finds that noteworthy numbers have some level of unease with keeping up with information demands. When queried about statements about the possible burdens of information, substantial minorities say that such statements describe them at least somewhat well:

  • 46% of Americans say this statement describes them “very well” or “somewhat well”: “A lot of institutions I deal with – schools, banks or government agencies – expect me to do too much information gathering in order to deal with them.”
  • 42% say this statement describes them “very well” or “somewhat well”: “I sometimes feel stressed about all the information I have to keep track of.”
  • 36% say this statement describes them “very well” or “somewhat well”: “It is sometimes difficult for me to find the information I need.”

There are some demographic variations in people’s responses on possible tensions that come with information gathering. One broad pattern is that those with lower levels of household income and lower levels of education say they are struggling more than those at the higher end of the socio-economic spectrum.

For instance, 45% with high school degrees or less sometimes feel stressed about the amount of information they have to follow, compared with 39% of those with college degrees or more. And half of lower income Americans (50%) say institutions expect them to do too much information gathering to deal with them, compared with 42% among those whose annual household incomes are $75,000 or more.

More stress about institutional demands ties to other information stress

As it turns out, the greater the feeling that institutions expect people to gather too much information to transact with them, the more likely people are to say they have problems with information in several ways. More than half (56%) of those who feel institutions like schools and banks expect them to do too much information gathering in order to deal with them say that they feel stressed about the information they have to keep track of. Some 30% of them say they do not feel that stress.

Similarly, 47% of those who feel information burdened by institutions say it is sometimes difficult for them to find the information they need, compared with 26% who say that does not fit their situations.

In other words, in general, people manage information demands fairly well when these demands come to them on their own terms. However, when outside entities, such as schools, banks and government agencies, expect too much from people when it comes to information gathering, some stresses are evident. For those people, the stress of having to keep track of information or difficulties in finding it makes information gathering something of a burden.