Panic by design: information overload

Creative Commons Licence
Panic by design: information overload by Anton Angelo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 New Zealand License.


“Its not information overload – its filter failure” (Shirky n.d.)

I was inspired to create this movie by this quote by Clay Shirky.  As I studied the problem of information overload, and the anxiety caused by technology, I discovered the idea of “Panic Architecture” (Case, 2011), where systems are designed to be intrusive.  Panic Architectures are those that work on intermittent reinforcement schedules, driving looping behaviour to check your email, Facebook notifications, phone messages and all the other places messages and notifications arise.

Though I do not want to go into any great detail on why applications and devices are designed to elicit this behaviour, I suspect it is in great part to increase visibility of commercial messaging: advertisements and spam, for example.

My premise is that even though panic architecture is anxiety provoking, and generates unpleasant results, it is not truly psychologically damaging (Dokoupil, 2012).  However, it does affect well being, and there are a number of tactics one can adopt to circumvent the interrupt driven and productivity draining looping it evokes.

Shirkey’s proposition that filter failure is the problem, though I suggest fixing technology is only part of the solution.  Taming email programs not to interrupt the flow of work with pop up “toast” messages, taking unread message counts off icons, and switching phone notifications off while doing creative and flow inducing activities are important.  Systems like David Allen’s “Get Things Done”(David Allen, Getting Things Done® and GTD® n.d.) , do not rely on technology, but can be a great boon in getting rid of distractions while being appropriately aware of deadlines and tasks.  “The Pomodoro Technique” (The Pomodoro Technique® n.d.) can be achieved with nothing more complex than a kitchen timer (preferably in the shape of a tomato), and can help focus and flow by encouraging specific times and places for different activities.  Technological filtering help can come from browser plug-ins like Ad Block Plus (Adblock Plus — for annoyance-free web surfing n.d.), which disables all ads on common sites, making them much less jarring, or Clearly by Evernote (Evernote Clearly | Evernote n.d.), which displays a webpage’s main content in a plain, very readable format.

Bolstering one’s own cognitive filters with systems and techniques like the ones described above help to reassert a sense of control over technology, reducing anxiety, and letting the activity you want to indulge in flow.

Picture Credits and References

Adblock Plus — for annoyance-free web surfing. (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2012, from
Allen, D. (n.d.). David Allen, Getting Things Done® and GTD®. Retrieved July 20, 2012, from
Arbesman, S. (2012, May 30). Information Overload Is Not a New Problem. WIRED. Retrieved June 11, 2012, from
audrey_sel. (2007). Lab mascot #1. Retrieved from
Bawden, D., & Robinson, L. (2009). The Dark Side of Information: Overload, Anxiety and Other Paradoxes and Pathologies. Journal of Information Science, 35(2), 180–191. doi:10.1177/0165551508095781
Beck, M. (2012, June 18). Anxiety Can Bring Out the Best. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from
Carr, N. (2008, August). Is Google Making Us Stupid? The Atlantic. Retrieved from
Case, A. (2011, December 16). Panic Architecture – Cyborg Anthropology. Retrieved July 20, 2012, from
Dokoupil, T. (2012, July 9). Is the Web Driving Us Mad? Newsweek Magazine. Retrieved from
Evernote Clearly | Evernote. (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2012, from
Goldhaber, M. H. (1997). The attention economy and the Net. First Monday, 2(4). Retrieved from
Richtel, M. (2010, June 6). Attached to Technology and Paying a Price. The New York Times. Retrieved from
Shirky, C. (n.d.). Web 2.0 Expo NY: Clay Shirky ( It’s Not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure. Retrieved from
The Pomodoro Technique®. (n.d.). Retrieved July 20, 2012, from

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