Information Fatigue Syndrome

PUBLISHED 9th August 2018

Patient: You, Me, Anyone.

Diagnosis: Information Fatigue Syndrome.

State: Distracted.

Cause: What your looking at right now.

You may have not realised it, but at some point in your life you have experienced information fatigue syndrome, where an overload of information can paralyse you into a state of inaction.

As consumers and patients alike want more control of their health, pharmaceutical and technology companies have responded. The market for wearable medical devices and apps has experienced tremendous growth in recent years and is set to continue exponentially in the coming decade and beyond. Many of these devices are designed to track steps, calories, our heartrates and the amount of sleep we need in order to reach our health or fitness goals.

Some of these devices however, are used to monitor and manage more serious chronic illnesses such as; diabetes, respiratory diseases and rheumatoid arthritis and are designed to be synced with a companion app. Giving users the ability, among other things, to track the dates on which they medicate themselves, ensures patients keep to their medication schedules and maximise the efficiency of the drug.

But is all this information a good thing? We all want to be informed, especially when it comes to personal health. But between all of the devices we use to keep up with modern day life and achieve our health goals, we are inundated with data so much so that we reach a point of information fatigue and no longer want to interact with the data and switch off.

“Once capacity is surpassed, additional information becomes noise and results in a decrease in information processing and decision quality…having too much information is the same as not having enough” – J Ruff.

If we don’t use the information that we’re learning immediately, we lose up to 75% of that information from our memories and brains, making all of the information we’re taking in nearly useless. This overload could lead to users turning down a device’s volume or discontinuing alerts all together. As a result, it can be hard for device manufacturers to be heard through the noise.

The challenge is to find creative ways to keep the data relevant and non-intrusive. Making data simple and manageable, allowing users to forget it’s there, keeping users engaged. With patients and consumers having more and more devices playing roles in their daily lives, it could be important to consider what other devices they may be using and how best to integrate them in harmony together.

Manufacturers in the future could pre-empt and design their products so that information fatigue is managed and while developing methodologies by which the device communicates to the user, keep in mind their device won’t be the only one speaking, and talking louder may not get its voice heard.

Reference

Ruff, J. (2002). Information Overload: Causes, Symptoms and Solutions. Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Learning Innovations Laboratory (LILA).