Study: The dark side of information: overload, anxiety and other paradoxes and pathologies

Study: The dark side of information: overload, anxiety and other paradoxes and pathologies


information overload; information anxiety; digital literacy; paradox of choice; satisficing; web 2.0

Author(s): David Bawden, and Robinson, L.

Date: 2009


This review article identifies and discusses some of main issues and potential problems – paradoxes and pathologies – around the communication of recorded information, and points to some possible solutions. The article considers the changing contexts of information communication, with some caveats about the identification of ‘pathologies of information’, and analyses the changes over time in the way in which issues of the quantity and quality of information available have been regarded. Two main classes of problems and issues are discussed. The first comprises issues relating to the quantity and diversity of information available: information overload, information anxiety, etc. The second comprises issues relating to the changing information environment with the advent of Web 2.0: loss of identity and authority, emphasis on micro-chunking and shallow novelty, and the impermanence of information. A final section proposes some means of solution of problems and of improvements to the situation.

Information Pathologies

Paradox Of Choice

The idea that there is too much information to hand, exacerbated by the multiple formats and channels available for its communication, has led to the concept of information overload, perhaps the most familiar of the “information pathologies”. Other consequences incluse conditions termed infobesity, information avoidance, information anxiety and library anxiety. They may be understood in terms of a general “paradox of choice”.


No set of solutions to the problems identified in this article can be regarded as finally satisfactory, if only because new “pathologies of information” will emerge as the information environment changes, primarily under the influence of new technologies. New solutions will always be needed, although it will be vital to be selective in determining which new patterns and modes of information communication and use are truly problems in need of solutions.

The solutions which emerge are not likely to be purely “informational”, still less associated solely with formal information services and information management. Rather, information aspects will comprise part of solutions involving much wider issues of education, the nature of work, and individual responses to an increasingly complex, and largely digital, information environment. Information managers will, no doubt, continue to devise and promote pragmatic solutions to these continuing and emerging issues. But satisfactory progress will depend on a better understanding of the fundamentals of human information behavior, and the ways in which it changes over time; this is, perhaps, the most basic challenge for information science over the next decades.