In The Knowledge Overload Loop

Knowing how to remember so that you no longer need to remember, and studying effectively to be ready to forget what you have learned… is not an easy task. Imagine, you are standing in front of a buffet. Hundreds of diverse dishes have been clearly classified. The buffet is always beautiful and stimulating, but this well-ordered system does not help diners solve the key question: how much should they eat? The experience after a buffet meal, therefore, is often described by two adjectives: full and bored. In some cases, overeating can also cause indigestion, bloating, and acid reflux.

In The Knowledge Overload Loop

The same is true in the information-rich and fascinating world of mobile buffets. Not only that, this buffet counter also constantly changes dishes daily and is very accessible. Every morning, when you open your eyes, if the next action is to reach for your smartphone, this buffet will be brought to your bed. Ingesting information with high frequency and density can affect the mind in the same way that food affects the digestive system. When we “eat” too much, we can also have “reflux” because of overload.


Before the Internet boom, in 1970, futurist Alvin Toffler saw the prospect of people being engulfed in a matrix of information. The concept of information overload became popular thanks to his analysis in his work Future Shock. What happened in the following decades confirmed Alvin Toffler’s vision. Today, information overload is no longer a prediction but has been and is a dilemma for modern society.

In general, information overload is understood as a state of people being overwhelmed, even paralyzed by the amount of data that needs to be received and processed from the living environment. The state of “machine fire” occurs not only when we have to immediately absorb too much information, but also when the information comes from many different sources and belongs to different categories.

In the past, most ways of updating people’s information required a lot of time and effort: From single word of mouth to writing, books, letters and then television, and newspapers. The Internet age, with the rapid development of a series of simple and convenient communication tools, is the period when people receive the most data in history. And we are in the middle of the big data era. Today, almost everyone has the same opportunities and conditions to access information via the Internet, so each person accidentally or intentionally becomes a general information channel. At this point, the fear of missing out (FOMO) begins to arise. A little slower than the crowd, you immediately become an “old-fashioned” person and lag behind. Human society does not accept this situation.

Of course, the development of information technology has brought many great and practical benefits to mankind. But, the dark side of the story is the obvious decline in both physical and mental. That is the “future shock” that Alvin Toffler mentioned. When we have to take in and process so much information, we don’t simply get headaches or “reflux”. A cloud of information can obscure our ability to judge useful and junk information, making it difficult to make decisions. The endless stream of new information is a powerful and unending stimulus to the human mind. Surfing social networks is addictive because the intelligent content algorithm can stimulate the brain to release dopamine – the hormone that creates the feeling of pleasure when we are rewarded. But this is not a healthy reward mechanism, overdose will lead to addiction. Ingesting large amounts of information unconsciously and without direction can, in the long run, lead to emotional inertia, the urge to seek stronger stimuli. An endless loop appears.


If information overload is already a big challenge, knowledge overload is a doubly big challenge. Have you ever been in a situation where you needed to search for an answer on Google, only to stumble across interesting pieces of related information? From one to ten, from ten to a hundred, and so on, by the time you wake up, half a day has passed. The original answer was still incomplete, now you have a hundred more questions to be answered. This extended learning journey looks fun, but in terms of effectiveness, it’s a failure.

James Gleick, a great author once remarked in the book The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood that: “Information is not necessarily knowledge .not necessarily wisdom.” The tangled information map on the Internet can lure us into indulging in fragmented or misleading knowledge, which is distracting. Without effective self-refining, censorship, and contemplation of information, we run the risk of becoming a “know-it-all” machine that doesn’t really understand anything. Even when we’ve done that well, we still face the deeper danger of failing to manage our accumulated knowledge. The previous information overlaps the following information, the brain has not had time to arrange the available data to receive other data. Gradually, this feeling will become more and more clear: I have learned a lot but haven’t used much, can’t get the necessary knowledge from memory, can’t apply my experience in practice, and the brain is a mess heap.

But in reality, the brain is not designed to process information with such density and frequency. In the language of neuroscience and psychology, information overload is called cognitive overload. According to educational psychologist John Sweller, normally, the human brain only receives and processes 5-9 different information at the same time. Therefore, teaching and learning methods should avoid overloading this limited memory with unnecessary/unnecessary information.

The above finding is not only useful for the education industry because the acquisition of knowledge always happens anytime, anywhere, and with everyone. With the core of understanding and cherishing our own brains, we can infer other solutions to overcome information overload – cognitive overload.

First of all, active and selective knowledge acquisition is a prerequisite. If you’re still not in the habit of clicking subscribe and unsubscribing from regular news channels, now is a good time to start. Every piece of information that passes through your eyes or ears will be put into sensory memory and gradually sink into your subconscious, whether you realize it or not. Keeping the information environment around you clean and conducive to personal growth is also a way to protect the mind.

The second solution is to take advantage of the advantages that are the gift of the digital age. In the last few years, personal knowledge management applications are increasingly popular and recognized on a global scale. Prominent among them can be mentioned Notion, Evernote, ClickUp, Scribe, Document 360… and a rookie with a very solid theoretical foundation – Obsidian. Obsidian was created based on the famous theory of organization and notes by Philosopher Zettelkasten, combined with the second brain theory of Productivity Expert Tiago Forte. If your physical brain has only a limited capacity to receive and process information, why not create a “second brain” in virtual space to help? An interesting and scientifically grounded perspective will help you be inspired to find the right personal knowledge management solution for you.

Finally, the fear of missing out (FOMO) may have implicitly prompted you to overfill information. So on any given day, as soon as you have the opportunity, try to choose the fun-to-miss lifestyle (JOMO). Assuming you don’t keep up with the latest news, or don’t connect continuously with others for just one day, what could happen? If you have verified that a day of missing information is not worth it, are you ready to increase JOMO to 3 days/week? In those days, you can sit back with a single article that has been saved for a long time without time to read, or a single movie that is half-finished… Give the focus and time needed. Given just a few key pieces of information, you’ll realize how rich you can learn from that process. As rich as learning from the endless flow of information.

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