When we have to make a decision, we can experience information and content overload because we get too much information from the content we are looking at or researching.


It has been estimated the mind can process 11 trillion bits of information per second. While such a number may excite physicists and those researching the boundaries between humanity and AI, for the average person, that number is so large as to be incomprehensible.

Most of us struggle with feeling overwhelmed with the amount of content available to us and which we have streaming through our social media platforms, never mind that theoretically, we should be able to process 11 trillion bits.

What is content overload?

Forbes describes content overload as receiving too much information about a particular item or topic online. It is the feeling of overwhelm from being inundated with too much content.

A similar term that is often used interchangeably is information overload. Although there are similarities between the two, there is an important difference.

Information overload is the difficulty we experience making a decision when we have too much information. When we have to make a decision, we can experience information and content overload because we get too much information from the content we are looking at or researching.

Another important difference is that while content overload has arisen with the development of social media, information overload predated technology. A sociologist, Georg Simmel (1858 – 1918), was one of the first to notice the negative effects of information overload in urban centres. He hypothesised that the overload of sensations in the urban world caused city dwellers to become jaded.

Consequences of content overload

We can experience several negative consequences when we feel overwhelmed with content on our social media platforms.


We tell ourselves and others;

“I will do that in a minute. I’ll just check X [formerly Twitter], Instagram or our other social platforms.”

Then, we lose track of time as we scroll through the endless stream of content, and things we are meant to do are delayed or postponed.

Procrastination is often linked with another aspect of social media use: FOMO or fear of missing out. People who have FOMO tend to use social media in problematic ways.

This can cause problems in the work situation. Meal breaks get extended as people lose track of time checking through their social media content. People take frequent toilet breaks or keep checking their phones at their desks, fearing missing out on what is coming through their content.

Perfectionists, Procrastination and social media

People who are perfectionists generally struggle with procrastination. When they are in a marketing or promotions role that requires them to be current with what is occurring on social media, they have the perfect excuse for their procrastination.

The reason they struggle with procrastination is linked to their anxiety that what they do will not be perfect. This fear of not doing something perfectly causes them to delay starting tasks that need to be done. Other staff members will often view them as being difficult, as not being a team member or as someone who is lazy. The real reason is that they are afraid if they don’t do the task perfectly, it will confirm their underlying fear that they are no good. This causes them to procrastinate. Checking social media provides them with a cover because they are “doing research” or “checking out how other businesses are advertising their products” while delaying what needs to be done.

Procrastination is not just a problem for perfectionists. It can impact all levels of a business, from the CEO who doesn’t want to have the challenging conversation and loses track of time scrolling through their social media accounts to the staff member who takes multiple micro-breaks to check their social media.

Becoming Jaded

As mentioned above, Georg Simmel was the sociologist who hypothesised about urban dwellers becoming jaded. While Georg discussed this phenomenon of information overload, becoming jaded applies equally when there is content overload.

What is being jaded?

The feeling of dullness, apathy and cynicism arises from experiencing or seeing too much of the same thing. We can only enjoy so many posts of cute cats before we flick past them to find something else to appeal to our desire for cute.

There are two risks when we allow ourselves to become jaded.

Being jaded, cynicism and mental well-being

Being jaded can quickly slide into being cynical. While we need some level of cynicism to prevent ourselves from being gullible and naïve, too much cynicism can lead to chronic pessimism and hopelessness, which can increase our susceptibility to mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

Cynicism can increase our sense of alienation and loneliness, which also contributes to poorer mental health outcomes. The loneliness arises from two sources.

      Because the person prioritises social media connections to interactions with people in real life, they do not have close friendships that provide the sense of connection that would reduce loneliness.

      Very often, a person is aware of their overuse of social media and feels ashamed. This shame keeps them from communicating openly and honestly about how they use social media. Shame keeps them locked into silence and into patterns of behaviour that are less than healthy.

People who experience FOMO have also been shown to have poorer mental health outcomes. This is because FOMO and cynicism are often interlinked. FOMO keeps a person scrolling through social media, which leads to them feeling jaded and cynical. They cannot give up because their fear overrides their cynicism, but it also reinforces their cynicism and feeling of helplessness, leading to them feeling isolated and lonely.

Too much cynicism can lead to chronic pessimism and hopelessness, which can increase our susceptibility to mental health issues such as depression or anxiety.

Being jaded and our unconscious biases

When we become jaded, we are also more likely to operate and make judgements from our unconscious biases.

Unconscious biases are the automatic associations or assumptions we make about a group of people or a person. When we operate from our unconscious biases, we are more likely to react to a person in a way that generates a negative response from them. We use this negative response to confirm and justify our bias. This is known as confirmation bias.

When we operate from unconscious and confirmation biases, we are likely to:

      Only listen to or watch information that already supports our biases. For example, we follow people on social media who reinforce what we believe to be true.

      Refuse to listen to people who hold different beliefs or views to ourselves. Instead of listening to them, we ‘other’ them. When we ‘other’ another person or group of people, we define them as different from ourselves. Their difference is viewed negatively. Because they are different, they are wrong.

      Distort facts with emotional arguments.

Arguing with someone operating from a confirmation bias reinforces their bias because they operate within a closed loop. They listen, read, and watch information confirming their bias, reinforcing their belief that they have the truth and everyone else is wrong. When threatened with logic and reason, they respond emotionally.

How to manage content overwhelm

Given the negative impact content overwhelm can have in our lives, how do we manage it?

1. Become curious

Most of us use social media unconsciously. We are waiting in line and start scrolling. We scroll the last few moments before going to bed. We wake up and reach for the phone. We are tired and want to zone out, we reach for our phones.

The first step to managing content overwhelm is to become conscious about how we use our phones.

      When are we reaching for them?

      What are we feeling when we start scrolling? Are we bored? Anxious? Feeling niggled?

      What are we feeling after we have been scrolling? Do we feel guilty? Has our anxiety increased after scrolling?

The aim of being curious is to raise our consciousness about how we are using social media. The more conscious we are, the more we can change and make adjustments that reduce the sense of overwhelm.

2. Become curious about the content on your social media platforms

This is the other part of being curious. Is the content on your social media platforms all the same, or are you watching and listening to a variety of views and different perspectives? Are you prepared to consider it even if you disagree with what you are watching or listening to? To step outside your unconscious biases and consider different viewpoints.

3. Start small

Another mistake we often make when we try to change how we use social media is to try to make large-scale changes to our habits. Instead of being on social media for two hours a day, we limit our use to twenty minutes and then wonder why we fail.

We need to start with small changes that build our confidence and provide a platform of success we can build on. Perhaps success looks like reducing your time on social media by five minutes a day.

4. Spring-clean who you are following

Our interests change. People we followed avidly nine months ago, we no longer follow because we have moved on to other areas of interest, yet their feeds keep cropping up.

Every six or twelve months, it is important to have a spring clean of people we are following or following us. A following of thousands is not a sign of your worth, even though many confuse the two.

Spring cleaning our social media lists greatly helps with reducing content overwhelm.

5. Begin to question your social media use

Questions like

      How many social media platforms do I need to be on?

      Can I separate my social media platforms for different purposes? For example, are there platforms I reserve solely for work and other platforms for personal and family use?


The amount of content on social media will continue to overwhelm us because there is no way we can stop the content from being created. However, using social media unconsciously and allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by the content is detrimental to our emotional and mental well-being and sense of connection with other people.

6.  Remember, you don’t have to keep up

Remember, you don’t have to stay current with everything that occurs on social media. The world beyond our screens will keep functioning. The universe will remain disinterested and unconcerned by what streams through our platforms.

It is we who put pressure on ourselves and create unrealistic standards. Sometimes, we need to step back, look up from our screens and realise the day doesn’t panic or get upset if we don’t keep up with the constant stream of content.

We can begin to manage the feeling of overwhelm by allowing ourselves to become curious and conscious of how we use social media. As we become curious, we can question and make space for life beyond our screens.