Information Overload Cartoon

Information Overload Cartoon

I’ve had the distinct fortune over the last few days to hear some great lectures (and a few duds) on learning theory, behavioral science and how the brain works from people like Daniel Simons and Ann Herrmann-Nehdi.   As someone who hungers for new learning, I am always interested in how people process information and how the instructor can either help or hinder that process.

What I find interesting though, is that we are so quick sometimes to throw out terms like “information overload” or “brain overload” when I tend to think most of the time it is actually “information confusion”.  Experts agree that we can process information much faster than the average person can talk.  So if the information is presented in a logical fashion, we are more apt to be engaged and remember it.  Though not absolute, I can be bombarded with information and still retain the salient parts if I can follow the logic. 

However, “information confusion” more-so than overload becomes the blocker.   All new information that I could process is shut off because now I am fixated on figuring out something that may have been said five minutes earlier.  I find this when speakers tend to say “um” every 10 seconds.  I become fixated on counting the “um’s” that I no longer pay attention to the content. 

I remember having a professor in college with a strong Ukrainian accent.  He was not the type of professor who liked interruptions in his lectures for silly things like questions.  One day, he spent 30 minutes lecturing on Ira.  I couldn’t figure out who this Ira guy was or what he had to do with science.  It was only as the bell was beginning to ring, that I finally understood he was saying “iron”.  Had I known that in the beginning, the entire lecture might have made sense.

Anyone else have examples of when you become fixated on something someone else said or did and can’t seem to get past it to really pay attention to their point?

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76 Responses to “Information Overload Cartoon”

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  1. This is slightly off topic but similar. Just last night I was talking about how once you notice, really notice, the laugh track in a sitcom, the show is ruined. Most shows with laugh tracks stink anyway but even the decent ones like Big Bang Theory start to suck when all you can hear is laughing on cue.

    • Bearman says:

      I was just the opposite. I grew up with Laugh traks. I can’t remember the first show I saw that didn’t have one but everyone was raving about it. I hated it. Then I realized that I was programmed to laugh at a certain time and without the cue the show wasn’t as funny.

  2. writerdood says:

    This happens to me in any class or lecture. Something being said will strike a chord and my brain will go off on an extended vacation, supplying me with a whole stream of internal data that may or may night be slightly related to the topic being discussed. In the meantime, the lecture has continued, and when I come back to reality, I’ve now got to figure out what’s been going on. Sometimes while I’m out, people draw stuff on me, or put things on my head. It can be embarrassing.

    • Bearman says:

      Well the guru Thiagi says that if you are in a class or lecture setting and you, as the leader, cannot maintain your audience’s attention, they will tend to drift. And most will be thinking about sex. So if you don’t want a bunch of “uncomfortable” people in your room, you better keep them engaged.

  3. Dan says:

    Information overload is a conspiracy set in motion by brain-eating zombies.

  4. Bo Lumpkin says:

    Yeah, what you said Bearman…Uhhh I think. I am plannin’ a blog on my thought process shortly. Hopefully it will be helpful to you.

  5. Jande says:

    Accents. I’m a natural mimic and have always loved to echo the WAY people say things losing complete track of what they say, depending on the strength of the accent. I find I’ve often spent the whole lecture working on my mimicry than learning what the lecturer has said. (If really need to know I take notes, which helps for learnng the content) If the subject is interesting enough to me, I can still learn the content though.

    In the series I’m attending now, the professor has a strong Jersy (US) accent which interested me a lot. Fortunately his subject and the way he presents it is fascinating to me. And the bonus is I have down his accent pretty well now.

    But here is something else: if the lecturer has a piercing or squeaky voice, or a speaks without vocal dynamics (i.e. a monotone) I can’t listen at all. I have to leave the lecture, or turn it off if I’m listening to a recorded one.

    Oh! and hilarious cartoon. Hope there’s no zombies in the room!

    • Bearman says:

      I thought about putting the zombie in but then I thought someone might miss the original point.

      I hope when you are practicing those accents you are using your INTERNAL voice. You could become the distraction otherwise.

  6. MJ says:

    What were we talking about? ha,ha,ha. I have a very short attention span, so I tend to miss alot of things on occasion.

  7. Jillsy Girl says:

    I had a tendency when I was young to use the expression “you know” (in replacement if “um” I guess). My Dad hated it, and whenever I tried to tell him about something (which didn’t happen too often) he would stop me mid sentence and say “No, I didn’t know, that’s why you’re telling me”. Well, after 4 or 5 interruptions, I finally would quit and said “you’re not interested” and walk away. But, it is something that stuck with me, and I eventually dropped the annoying expression (at least I think so ;-)) It’s just that when you are young, you don’t want to be told those kinds of things!

    • Bearman says:

      I said that in response to my wife saying “you know” once. I’ll never make that mistake again. I got in trouble for trying to correct her..haha

  8. George says:

    I’m a very strong “Ummm-Noticer”. I’ll count ’em too. My wife is notorious for it and I try to be compassionate about it, but “umm’s” really irk me. I’d rather the speak just paused in silence than to say one every three syllables. That’s just me, though.

    I agree with you about the “information overload”. I have a habit of rehashing material that I didn’t completely understand at first until it starts making sense to me. The bad part is that I end up missing out on additional info by dwelling on the past.

    Good post, B, and I love the drawing. You do good brain. 🙂

    • Bearman says:

      I used to do the ‘um’ thing myself. I had to unlearn it. Now I am the biggest critic of others who do it. It’s like an ex smoker around smokers.

      • DadaHyena says:

        From that “Powerpuff Girls” cartoon that all the kids used to love. He was a chimpanzee whose brain was so big it busted out of his skull and stood up like Marge Simpson’s hair.

        …Marge Simpson…from that “Simpsons” cartoon that all the kids used to–forget it.

  9. Nate Fakes says:

    I just try to go blank as much as possible to prevent this.

  10. Yeah… um… it’s usually difficult for me to um… retain much of… um… anything. But um… you know… I’m always um… working on that. Um. 🙂

  11. Duncanr says:

    I was going to write something extremely witty, and germaine to the discussion, but . . . .

    I got distracted 😳

    [Must be that damn ‘information overload/confusion thingy – I swear I wasn’t staring at that blonde’s 38 double D boobs. I was merely trying to catch the bartenders attention when my eye was momentarily (from 3.17pm to 3.29 pm) distracted by her sudden appearance alongside him. And that low groaning noise was me just clearing my throat. Er, what were we talking about ?] 😳

    • Bearman says:

      I had a friend who said that he is very conscious NOT to stare a woman’s chest when he became bald and could tell when someone was looking from his eyes to his head. He figured if he could tell the shift in focus in that short of a distance there was no way he was getting away with being sneaky himself.

  12. Tony McGurk says:

    I have a headache so that is how my brain feels at the moment. We are getting a new inventory/sales/purchasing computer system at work soon & they have been showing us “How to use it videos” & that is how I am at the moment with info overload. I am a learn by doing person. If I am shown something without being able to actually do it I forget it in just a few hours minutes

  13. Sheila Deeth says:

    We had math profs like that. We reckoned lectures were invented to get information from the lecturer’s blackboard to the student’s notebook without going through the brain of either. Discussions afterward were for working out what words were really said (and sometimes what was meant).

    • Bearman says:

      I just heard someone say that. If discussions after the course are where the best learning takes place, then how do you engage all the learners in the process so key people don’t miss some of the learning.

  14. Joenis says:

    My brain did that once… it ended not so well.

  15. I cant do lectures. lol
    I switch off the second i walk in

  16. Friggin Loon says:

    I tend to get distracted by lecturers. Firstly I check out what they are wearing, then my mind starts to wonder…are they …. married, gay, kinky, evil, serial killer …do they have bad breath, bad habits, a criminal record. By the time I tune into what they are saying I have lost the gist.

  17. Binky says:

    An interesting thought, and I think you’re quite right about the information confusion. I think a related issue is that we hear so much conflicting information about everything these days (all based on the latest studies), that we really don’t know what to believe anymore. And then we turn off and don’t listen to anything.

    • Bearman says:

      I heard someone complain that wikipedia had so much bad info. The lecturer said sometimes you have to trade off speed for having 100% accuracy, so it depends which is more important to you. 100% accuracy two weeks from now or 0% accuracy right now?

  18. Leila says:

    If I’m very interested in the topic, and the logic (as you mentioned) really makes sense to me, then I will be fully absorbed. If I’m somewhat ambivalent about how interested I am, then it will be a deliberate on and off attentiveness. What can I say? I’m a daydreamer… However, I can still retain a lot despite the fact that I’m not consciously listening (Dr. Jung attributed that to the unconscious absorbing the information the consciousness either lost or can’t grasp).

    What makes me fall apart is when, after having listened to a long and verbose lecture, I’m instantly asked a really difficult question pertaining to the topic discussed. I panic because I don’t want to be wrong, first of all, and second of all I don’t have a good “recall” function in memory. I can retain a lot from what I learn and then spew it all out when the fancy strikes, but for recognition and recall (such as in both “objective” and “subjective” tests), you can’t bet on me to be 100% on the mark.

    I think it’s important to understand though, that information overload DOES exist. That’s how misinformation begins, and how easily distracted you become stems from that too. If your brain can’t handle the input-output rate, then you bet you’re going to be distracted. It’s sort of like a safety valve…

    By the way, I’m sorry if you mind me using a lot of my AP Psych jargon. It’s a lot of regurgitation (that class), and out of habit, i did the same in this comment.

    • Bearman says:

      Coming from a woman who calls her blog “I love big words”, I wouldn’t expect anything less.

      And I didn’t mean to say that information overload doesn’t exist. I just think plain old confusion is many times the culprit and overload is blamed. Now I am sure someone who studies behavioral sciences more than I ever did will say they ate one and the same but I see a nuance.

      I was someone who struggled in biology due to the almost 100% memorization. I aced Chemistry though because 90% of it related back to mathematical concepts. But if you asked me where and how to collect any chemical element, I wouldn’t begin to be able to tell you.

      • Leila says:

        Well the problem is, not everything is concrete, especially with how people learn. I mean I can throw theories at you and vice versa, but none of them will ever come up to 100% accurate. I mean, they’re factual information I’m sure, it’s just probably not the most truthful either. I think one of the more erroneous assumptions people make (both of us included) is we take personal account as the more factual generalization. We all know it’s not right, but we do it anyway. Confusion is your tomato, overload is my to-mah-to.

        And yes I agree biology is tough for anyone who has trouble memorizing. A lot of people say the same for history. I’m weak with Math because I’m not a quick-thinker, so to speak. I don’t know, to me people need a more innate understanding for math to do well.

        • Bearman says:

          “Well the problem is, not everything is concrete, especially with how people learn.” That was one of the things that Ann Herrmann (who I linked above) believes and she says we should take into account all learning styles when trying to teach a group something so each person can walk away with something.

          Oh yeah…hated history too. But now I love watching history shows and then referencing the info on the internet for more. Now if my teacher could have only figured that out back then, I might be a history professor today instead of a cartoonist.

  19. You make a great point, especially people who are ADD and such, I myself find my mond goes 100 times faster than most, and it makes me come across as random, but really I have processed what was said and moved way beyond where they were.

  20. nursemyra says:

    Hmmm…. I find it difficult to sit through lectures. Prefer to do my learning by reading books…..

    • Bearman says:

      How does that work for things like Chemistry and Physics. I like to have the book, read it, have someone explain it to me and then go back to the book for reference.

  21. if you love lectures about learning this is probably the best thing I’ve ever seen on the subject:

  22. Jason says:

    It’s strange that every day more and more information get’s pumped into the world, and we are tying to document it. There’s something to be said for letting some of the not-so-important stuff to fall into oblivion. Not just in the digital realm, but in our brains as well.

  23. bschooled says:

    Why do you always gotta be so perspicacious, B? (I Googled that word just for you, btw.)

    Your cartoons never fail to make me laugh, but then I read your commentary and I start to feel like I should stop listening to lectures from the cast of Jersey Shore…

  24. jynksie says:

    I’m still fixated on the fact you compared me to the Pope! *smirk* …its my delusion and I’m sticking to it!

  25. Dr. Cynicism says:

    This is exactly how I feel at the end of most research conferences. If you put this on a t-shirt, I would distribute it amongst my colleagues.

  26. walker says:

    you make a great point… it is about the information. And, I totally agree about the “UM” ers… drive me nuts.

    fyi: your avator still takes me to the old page!

    • Bearman says:

      That is weird. It might be a cookie thing on your end. I just went to your site and clicked my comment and also my avatar and both brought me here.

  27. Friggin Loon says:

    I get it, you are going to keep this cartoon up for weeks to test my attention span!!!! Nice one 🙂

  28. I tend to get disstracted by outer stimuli. I get thrown up by a ticking clock or the sudden kicking in of a cooling or heating system. Boobies tend to distract me, but those don’t bother me.

  29. 25BAR says:

    That was me through school and university!


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