Slide 5 of 22
Information overload is not a new phenomenon: the potential for overload has existed ever since information became an important input to any human activity. For example, once the scientific disciplines began to clearly emerge in the 17th to 19th centuries, it gradually became impossible for anyone to keep abreast of all of the work in what had been called ‘natural philosophy’. In some fields, the degree of specialisation is so high that, even within the same discipline, people are unable to keep abreast of all sub-areas and, in fact, may be completely unable to understand some of them.
Throughout the 20th century, the explosion of information outputs in the form of journal papers, patents, books, ‘grey’ literature, and so forth continued and that explosion gained even more force in the period immediately following the Second World War. Arguably, it was the release of formerly secret information from both Germany and the Allies that resulted in the birth of information science. Nearly forty years ago Price showed the exponential growth of scientific journals and of abstracting journals, which constitute a small part of the total information to which a person may be exposed (Figure 1).
More recently, however, the business information providers have taken an interest in the subject, since it is in their interests to ensure that the information load on managers and executives is not so great as to preclude use of their services.