1 Getting noticed in an age of information overload
Our brains are busier than ever before. We’re assaulted with facts, pseudo facts, jibber-jabber, and rumour, all posing as information. Trying to figure out what you need to know and what you can ignore is exhausting.
The sentiments expressed by Levitin in this quote are widespread. They neatly capture the phenomenon of information overload – a phrase popularised way back in the 1970s by Alvin Toffler (1970), who characterised it as ‘the difficulty a person faces when taking a decision in the presence of excessive information’. By 2002, Eppler and Menjis were identifying five causes of information overload:
- multiple sources of information
- too much information
- difficult-to-manage information
- irrelevance or unimportance of information
- lack of time to understand information.
As we speed through the twenty-first century, the data and information landscape, especially online, is growing without precedent. By January 2017 it was estimated that there were 4.6 billion pages on the World Wide Web (Tim Wu: “The internet is like the classic story of the party that went sour”’ (Naughton, 2017), gives a particularly critical account of this situation., 2017). This plethora of information ranges from commercially generated websites and adverts intended to sell us things (or persuade us to believe things) through to information that may be relevant, valuable and deeply interesting to the researcher but which may be obscured by more attention-grabbing web pages. Tim Wu’s The Attention Merchants, reviewed in the article ‘
As a consequence, it is ever more challenging for researchers to get their research findings noticed in the face of a staggering amount of competition. But for anyone interested in reading about the latest developments in a particular field, it is essential to question and critically engage with the information available. A further complication lies in the fact that, as already mentioned, there are few filters online and it is extremely easy to share information via the internet, irrespective of its quality or accuracy. 2016 and 2017 saw a rapid increase in the scale of ‘fake news’, indicating how easy it is to deceive and misinform online.
When presentating and disseminating research findings, we have to consider how to create precisely the right message to have maximum reach and impact upon our intended audience. There may need to be several different messages for different audiences. Imagine a medical researcher who has developed a novel technique for treating a particular condition. They may:
- publish a full presentation of their work in a medical journal
- publish a ‘lighter’ version with less technical jargon and fewer of the details in a more general ‘popular’ science magazine
- write a short piece with no technical language for national news media
- produce posters or infographics for grabbing people’s attention at conferences, in hospitals or on the web.
Each of these potential dissemination routes would require a slightly different message, different focus, different wording and different method of presentation. In this short course you’ll focus on just one of these methods – infographics.