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A Year Ago: Data overload causing addiction

First published: Mon, 8 Dec 1997 18:21:04 GMT
Written by Martin Veitch, Contributor

   A research document due out tomorrow will suggest that the PC generation is the generation of information addiction. Almost half respondents said if data was a drug, they knew addicts, and the Internet is pinpointed as a key driver towards the point of overload.

Commissioned by Reuters, Glued to the Screen: An investigation into information addiction worldwide covered 1,000 managers in the UK, the US, Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong and Ireland.

Among key findings:

65 per cent of managers say they receive more information than a year ago, and that their working environment has grown more stressful.

61 per cent of managers think they receive too much information

54 per cent of managers say they get a 'high' when they locate information

46 per cent of managers work longer hours to keep up with data

43 per cent say they look for work-related data while on holiday

77 per cent blame information overload on the Internet and new sources of published information

The findings of the research are backed to some extent by Mark Griffiths, chartered psychologist and senior lecturer in Psychology at Nottingham Trent University, and a specialist in behavioural addictions.

"For managers in their everyday lives, information is probably the most important thing and can be addictive," said Grffiths.

The pursuit of information bore some characteristics of other addictions, he claimed.

"People are using it to shift their mood, which is a mark of addiction, and it is eating into people's leisure times and social relationships."

Griffiths added that the Internet is exacerbating the situation. "People type in a word and get 3,000 responses... the information is hard to tease out. That leads to frustration and stress and can lead to real physical problems such as headaches, eye strain or heart conditions."

Computing addiction is partly caused by easy access to computers in the workplace and at home, said Griffiths, and the "near miss" experience of locating data on the Net closely resembles the "relief and excitement" pattern found in gambling addiction.

"Most addictions rely on speedy rewards and that's why [searching] the Net stimulates addictive tendencies ... it is frustrating and addictive."

However, Griffiths cautioned that the Reuters survey wasn't cause for panic or outcry.

" If you said to me 'Does Internet addiction exist?', I would say 'Yes'. If you said to me 'Is it a serious problem?', I would say 'No', but it is something to be concerned about. What this data cannot tell is whether these people have bona fide addictions. It doesn't show that information is the most important thing in these people's lives or that there are withdrawal symptoms when data isn't there, but we may be able to argue that people can't leave it alone."

A case of how addictive the Internet can be is Jess, a 25-year-old management consultant from outer London, who started using the Net a year ago. She requested that her anonymity was protected for this interview.

"I just found it was a great research tool. Where before I would have to go away and use a database, the information was all right in front of me. I wasn't disciplined in my use of it and I found I was wasting a lot of time looking around for things. It's quite compulsive. There's always another option a click away."

Jess said she began to use the Net for more than just work purposes. "Initially it was a work thing but it's so easy top get side-tracked. I would be on the Internet all day, staying behind for an hour after work, and then going home to use it. I began to spend less time with family and going out with friends."

Jess said she is now more self-restrictive and, at work at least, uses the Net only when work criteria demand.

Paul Waddington, marketing manager at Reuters, said people are "ploughing through the Net to get facts but you still need people to read and organise. We're not anti-Net but you can waste loads of time and still get nothing."

Waddington said that the survey showed users still need "information directories" and suggested that corporations employ specialists in assimilating data for the workforce.

"Companies should take the information overload problem on board. At the moment nobody's really worrying about what's sloshing around the nets in companies. The Internet and intranets have made it very easy for people to publish and share information but that's a curse too... Not all technology is useful."

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