Tag Archive | literacy


Thinking about communicating in an age of exponential information

Suzanne Vander Wekken

February 6, 2013

Do you ever find yourself thinking “this is just too much information”?  Not in that it is information you find inappropriate or offensive, but that literally the volume of information is too much to process.  Then you, my friend,  are experiencing a phenomenon known as “infowhelm”.

Infowhelm is the experience of feeling overwhelmed with too much information.  Infowhelm is both real, and increasingly prevalent.  I’ve encountered it, and I’m sure many of you have had as well. Between the internet, hand-held mobile devices and screens around every corner, we are being exposed to hundreds of messages every day.  As was communicated in a video we watched the first day of class entitled “Did You Know, information channels are multiplying and information exponentiating all the time.   I find this concept both fascinating and terrifying, and something worth thinking about more in context of this class on health communication.

We hear all the time that in order to be relevant and reach modern audiences we must consider how to communicate through social media platforms.  Social media platforms have even bred their own lexicon with words such as “tweeting” “blogging” “facebooking” “blogosphere”.   Words like “wall”, “feed”, “tab”, “status”, “menu”, “post”, “tweet”, and “share” bring to mind something entirely different now than they would have 20 years ago.  Times have changed. (Check out this video that summarizes the rapid change in marketing).

On the topic of changing times, I recall how my grade school math teachers used to say to me “you need to learn this stuff because you won’t be able to carry a calculator around with you everywhere!!”  Turns out their predictions were off.  We do all carry calculators around with us in our mobile devices. Not only do we have calculators, but the majority of us actually have a small computer with connection to the World Wide Web that can answer our questions at any moment.

Can’t add?  There’s a calculator app for that.

Can’t spell?  Let Microsoft’s spell check do the work for you.

Can’t read? There will be a Podcast or Youtube or Tedx I can listen to

Can’t write?  Improved voice recognition and transcription software means you won’t have to. My phone even has a “Google button” that I can press and speak to Google about my question.

Interestingly and ironically, as technology and media information expands, it seems that people can actually feasibly get by with fewer traditional literacy skills. In one of our second week’s reading, Kickbush (2001) points out that we are returning to our historical ways of preferring to communicate through oral and visual means.   Suitably this means that the conventional literacy covered by the “3 R’s” are no longer sufficient and comprehensive for understanding information today (although arguably still very important).   To be “literate” in our present society, a person needs to be capable of a broader skill set including quantitative, scientific, technological, cultural, media and computer literacy (p.292).

In line with this thinking I found group online called the 2ist Century Fluency Project (2013).  Their vision is to move our focus beyond traditional literacy skills to 21st century skills that reflect the current times. They have developed a model of five main fluencies which operate in context of what they call a “global digital citizen”.  The fluencies include:

Fluencies pic for blog post1)    Information Fluency

2)    Solution Fluency

3)    Creativity Fluency

4)    Media Fluency

5)    Collaboration Fluency

For more information and some short videos on these fluencies click here.


So what is your experience with Infowhelm? 

Have you encountered it? Do you think you might in the future?   What about the people and populations you currently work with or plan on working with?  Why might it be important to consider infowhelm in communicating with the public relating to health?

Please share your experiences, stories and thoughts … or not, if you are feeling overwhelmed by all this information ;).


The 21ST Century Fluency Project. (2013). Retrieved Feb 5, 2013 from, http://fluency21.com/.
Kickbush, I. (2001).  Health literacy: addressing the health and education divide. Health Promo Intern.  16(3).  P.189-97.