Overcoming Information Anxiety

Overcoming Information Anxiety

by Joseph C. Farah, Writer-researcher, Excelleration, Inc.

Digital television, satellite radio, newspapers, books, and the Internet - do you often feel anxious that you can't keep up with all the information that comes your way? Do your children or grandchildren make you feel inferior around computers? Don't worry, you're just suffering from a slight case of information anxiety.

Richard Saul Wurman, in his book Information Anxiety, defines information anxiety as "the ever-widening gap between what we understand and what we think we should understand. It is the black hole between data and knowledge, and it happens when information doesn't tell us what we want or need to know."

To show how much the flow of information has increased and expanded, Wurman notes that more new information has been produced in the last half-century than in the previous 5,000 years. He writes, "A weekday edition of the New York Times contains more information than the average person was likely to come across in a lifetime in seventeenth century England."

Having personally suffered continuing bouts of information anxiety and having searched far and wide for a cure, I've concluded that the disease is incurable but treatable. The first step is identifying the symptoms, some of which I've adapted from Wurman's book.

If you engage in any of the following behaviors, you just might be suffering from information anxiety.

  1. Feeling guilty about that ever-higher stack of periodicals waiting to be read.
  2. Giving time and attention to news that has no cultural, economic, or scientific impact on your life.
  3. Reacting emotionally to information you don't really understand - like not knowing what the Dow Jones is, but panicking when you hear that it dropped 500 points.
  4. Being too afraid or too embarrassed to say "I don't know" because you think the person next to you understands everything you don't.
  5. Calling something you don't understand "information."

Treating this incurable ailment is easier than you may think. First, realize that no human being on earth could possibly keep up with all the information available today. Second, when in doubt, admit it. Either you'll find out you're not alone and no one else understands it either, or you just might get some genuine knowledge - which is far more useful than mere information. And finally, realize that you've spent a lifetime gathering and analyzing information. The stuff coming at you today may seem somewhat overwhelming, but you have the insight, experience, and wisdom to handle it.