This study looks at the level of information overload and information Anxiety among undergraduates of NnamdiAzikiwe University, Awka. The study sought to find out the major causes of information overload and anxiety and possible strategies to control them. The research was guided by four research questions and descriptive survey was used as the research design. Also, random sampling technique was used to select 200 students as the sample size from four faculties. Simple mean method was used for data analysis. The study revealed that the level of information overload among undergraduates when studying for exams, receiving lectures, doing a research project or an assignment is high. Also that the level of information anxiety among undergraduates in prioritizing tasks, effectively managing information and receiving information from different sources were also high, however they have low anxiety when making decision based on the obtained information and accessing needed information. The study further revealed that the major causes of information overload and anxiety are lack of information literacy skills, kind of tasks and responsibilities of the users, internet and emails, nature and formats of information. And that the possible strategy to managing information anxiety and overload among undergraduates were to acquire information literacy skills, use satisficing model of decision making, employ information pruning strategy, planning and prioritizing tasks before information search and effective time management.
Background to the Study
Information is the engine that drives civilization. It is a term that has come to mean different things to diversepeople; although the one major factor that everyone supports about information is the fact that it changes one’s perception of a situation or thing. In other words, it creates or raises awareness and because of the value of information to people, they always seek to obtain, process and use the information they needed. Having more information positively affects one’s self-confidence, although the correctness of the information does not increase. In the same vein, Information is necessary when making decisions, but over a certain limit, extra information adds virtually nothing.
The advent of ICThaschanged the way people obtain and process information. ICT has made information abundant; therefore, easy to access and process. The ability to access large amount of information at the click of the mouse is one of the greatest benefits of ICT. Adversely, that is also the major disadvantage of ICT, this is because people naturally have a limit to the amount of information they could process; but ICT have made information so abundant that people now stretch their threshold and as a result are being overloaded with information.
The information overload problem was first recognized and established in the field of clinical psychology. Other terms for the problem are information anxiety, information glut, data tsunami, sensory overload, information obesity, communication overload, information fatigue syndrome, or cognitive overload (Eppler, 2015).
In defining Overload, Eppler (2015) noted that Overload can mean being burdened with a large supply of unsolicited items, some of which may be relevant. It could also be associated with a loss of control over the situation, sometimes combined with feelings of being overwhelmed.
In essence, Information overload according to Williamson, Eaker and Lounsbury, (2012) simply means the difficulty a person can have in understanding an issue and making decisions that can be caused by the presence of too much information. What this means is that people do not have the capacity at that moment to process all of the information they receive. In every case, however, there is an implication that the overabundance of information forces the individual to spend more time and energy processing it than he or she might wish to.
Furthermore, Information overload occurs when the volume of the information supply exceeds the limited human information processing capacity. According to Bawden, Holtham, & Courtney cited by Marques and Batista (2017) information overload occurs when information received becomes a hindrance rather than a help. It emphasizes the quantity of information received by the individual as an element that hinders the quality of use in a given context. Information overload is a gap between the volume of information and the tools available to assimilate information into useful knowledge. According to Bawden et al. (2017) Information overload is a fundamental problem of the human condition with three manifestations: 1) the frustration of being unable to access relevant information, even when we know it is out there, possibly in abundance, 2) the fear that something important has been overlooked, and 3) the inability to read, process, and meaningfully act because of too many related pieces of information.
In the same vein, one of the most used definition for information overload has been referred to as inverted u-curve according to Eppler, (2015) it essentially establishes a cause-effect relationship between the amount of information available and the capacity of individuals to make decisions. Thus, the more the available information, the higher the decision-making capacity. However, this trend is reversed when the information is excessive, hindering its possibility of being digested efficiently and thus contributing negatively to the decision making. At that point, information overload occurs. According to this definition, there is a balance between the amount of information and the decision-making capacity, and there´s a peak that corresponds to the highest decision-making ability. If the amount of information continues to grow beyond that peak, the decision-making capacity gradually diminishes.
Furthermore, information overload also deals with characteristics of information such as timing issues, information processing capacity, qualitative dimensions, and subjective experience which includes stress, confusion, pressure, low motivation and anxiety
According to Spielberger cited by Vitasri, Wahab, Othman and Awang (2010) Anxiety is a psychological and physical response to treat a self-concept characterized by subjective, consciously perceived feelings of tension. Anxious people have experience of cognitive deficits like misapprehension of information or blocking of memory and recall. Speilberger reported two forms of anxiety: state anxiety – a response to a particular stimulation or set of circumstances, and trait anxiety – an intrinsic characteristic of the person. Previous anxiety research suggests that there are roughly two types that can be experienced at different psychological level. Hancock concludes that people with high level anxiety show significantly less motivation compared to people with low level anxiety (Hancock, 2001). Also, having a lot of information results in a selectionproblem: What do you choose and what do you leave out when making your decision? Scientific research has shown that having too much information is simply bad.
Therefore, the concept of information anxiety, introduced by Wurman cited bySpira (2011) is produced by the ever-widening gap between what we understand and what we think we should understand. It is the black hole between data and knowledge—what happens when information doesn’t tell us what we want or need to know. As Wurman states, we are made anxious by the fact that other people often control our access to information. We are also made anxious by other people’s expectations of what we should know. In essence,according to Bawden& Robinson (2008) information anxiety is a term taken to represent a state of affairs where an individual’s effectiveness and efficiency in using information in their work is hampered by the amount of relevant, and potentially useful information available to them.
Also, Spira (2011) listed the following symptoms as demonstrated in students who were no longer able to properly process the information on offer. They are more easily distracted and are not able to concentrate properly. They are less likely to make an effort for other students, resulting in less helpfulbehavior and even in disloyal behavior toward mates. Also, there is proof that a large amount of information leads to violent behavior and other types of delinquency. People become frustrated and develop all sorts of illnesses, such as hypertension and increased pressure on vital organs.
Originally, focus in library and information science was on “library anxiety,” a term brought to the fore in library and information science literature by researchers like Constance Mellon in 1986 followed by Sharon Bostick in 1992 and others since then (Gross & Latham, 2009; Kwon, 2008; Kwon et al., 2007). Library anxiety as a term is best described as the range of fear, nervousness, and confusion someone experiences when attempting to identify, define, and satisfy an information need, especially when that person must use the library and/or its resources (such as reference services) to satisfy that need.Library anxiety although is similar to information overload and anxiety, but the major difference lies in the resources and amount of information available.
It is therefore important to note that before information overload there is information under load, which is a situation where one is unable to obtain sufficient information. But the problem of the 21st century is that of information overload which is as a result of change in the resources through which information could be accessed.ICT is the resource that have made information so abundantand have brought about the problem of information overload and anxiety which affects the performance of both academic and non-academic users of information. This study therefore seeks to understand the level of information anxiety and information overload among undergraduate students of higher institutions.
Statement of the Problem
Information overload is endemic to every organization in this 21st century. Its effects is seen in employees low performance, depression, frustration and so on. However, the impact of information overload seems to be felt most by undergraduate students.They experience a great deal of information anxiety and information overload when seeking information in a formal (i.e. library and information system) setting, particularly if the process relates to an academic information need. This consequently appears to affect their performance both academically and socially.
The problem of information overload is not something that could be completely eradicated as people are bound to always seek information and are always bombarded with information whether consciously or otherwise.The advent of ICT made it possible for information to be processed and disseminated at an alarming rate. Also, not only is information overload already a serious problem to organizations and higher institutions but everyday there is an improvement in the technology and methods through which information is generated and disseminated. High speed internet services are becoming available and cheaper even to the remotest parts in developing countries. More online communities are created or updated, more features are being added to social media platforms and so on.
All these information being generated are most times been consumed by young adults who are among the highest users of the Internet in this century and as a result seems to be the most affected. Therefore, this study seeks to determine the level of information anxiety and overload among undergraduates of NnamdiAzikiweUniveristy, Awka.
Objectives of the Study
The main objective of this study is to determine the level of information anxiety and information overload among undergraduates of NnamdiAzikwe University, Awka. Specifically, this study intends to:
- Ascertain the level of information overload among undergraduates of NAU.
- Determine the level of information anxiety among undergraduates of NAU.
- Identify the major causes of information anxiety and information overload among undergraduates of NAU.
- Suggest the likely solutions and ways of managing information overload.
Significance of the Study
The findings of this study will be relevant to information workers, university lecturers, students and information workers.
To the information workers which entails all persons who makes a living through information cycles, the findings from this study will bring to their awareness the effects of information overload and anxiety. This is because some information workers may not be familiar with the effect of information overload such as depression, fatigue, hypertension and so on, therefore may not be able to diagnose the symptoms and as a result may not understand why they can’t perform the task at hand due to frustration in interpreting the available information. Findings from this study will enable them note the symptoms of information overload and work accordingly to overcome it. Similarly, information professionals from the results of this study will be able to process and interpret information more efficiently by filtering anything they don’t need and specifically retrieving the information they need to discharge their duties.
In the same vein, findings from this study will be relevant to lecturers by bringing to their knowledge the level of information anxiety experienced by undergraduates as a result of the kind of workload or assignments they give to them. This will enable them strategize on a means to reduce or explain specifically what they expect from the students and possibly give them clear hints on how to go about accomplishing the task. Finally, lecturers will find this study helpful as they will understand how to avoid information overload and the best method to control large amount of information.
Students both in secondary and tertiary institutions will find results from this study helpful as it will enlighten them on the concept, causes and effects of information anxiety and overload to their studies. Similarly, it will equip them, with the knowledge to overcome any symptoms of information anxiety. Also, they will acquire the skill to handle information and the ability to use information to meet their needs through the understanding of the need for information literacy. And finally,
To the information workers the findings from this study will enable them understand the causes and meaning of information overload, to avoid or overcome it by filtering out that information that is not needed for the job at hand instead of trying to save everything for future use and they will acquire the necessary skills such as information literacy and competency skills to retrieve and use the exact information they need without overloading themselves.
Scope of the Study
This study was delimited to full time undergraduates of NnamdiAzikiweUniversity,Awka.The study explores the level of information anxiety and information overload among undergraduates of NAU.
This study was guided by the following research questions;
- What is the level of information overload among undergraduates of NAU?
- What is the level of information anxiety among undergraduates of NAU?
- What are the major causes of information anxiety and information overload among undergraduates in NAU?
- What are the possible solutions to managing information anxiety?
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