I think and write about abundance often enough, so I was interested to read Justin Ellis’s coverage of a University of Texas study, “News and the overloaded consumer: Factors influencing information overload among news consumers”.
The co-authors, Avery Holton and Iris Chyi, surveyed a cross-section of adults to learn what they read, how and where they read it and how overwhelmed they felt. My favorite statistic, reported by Ellis: 27 percent of those responding said they felt they were “not at all” overloaded.
I want to meet those people.
Among the 73% who did feel at least somewhat overwhelmed, the researchers found that those consuming news on computers, e-readers or via Facebook were more likely to feel overloaded. In contrast, those who got their news from television or on an iPhone were less likely to say they were struggling to keep up.
Given how little news can be obtained from television, at least part of that makes sense. But what’s the difference between computers and the iPhone? Ellis writes:
“The more contained, or even constrained, a platform feels, the more it can contribute to people feeling less overwhelmed, Holton said. A news app or mobile site, for instance, is an isolated experience that emphasizes reading with minimal links or other distractions. Compared with reading on the web at your computer, your options seem smaller.”
Ellis, who reports for the Nieman Journalism Lab, also observed that the research was done in 2010, with the article appearing in a journal, “Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking” only this fall. As he points out, research done in 2010 all but excludes the iPad and Android-based devices.
Attitudes toward news content (or content consumption writ large) may be changing as quickly as the pace at which we adopt or discard the platforms where that content appears. Organizations like the Pew Research Center release data on a much more frequent basis, informing the discussion even if the work is not peer-reviewed.
Holton and Chyi make a good point about constraining options, something that Craig Mod addressed in his recent Books in Browsers talk, “Subcompact publishing”. Still, I wonder how much longer we’ll be able to support a journal model in which the lead time between conceiving behavioral experiments and reporting the results is measured in years.