Information Overload Mitigation by Consumption Values Prioritization

Information Overload Mitigation by Consumption Values Prioritization

Much effort, time and money go into the production of information, yet consumption is usually free-for-all.  The ease of copying and sharing coupled with difficulty to enforce purchasing of digital goods are some of the bases of the “free information” culture.  Free information is a blessing for creativity and learning, yet too much information can lead to a sense of overload and reduced personal productivity.  In other words, free information comes at the cost of the consumer’s time and attention.  These have become the currency of the new media economy. 

The influx of messages by electronic mail and social media raises the value of our precious limited resources, our currency of time and attention.  How, then, can we adjust the worth of incoming messages to fit the value we invest in reading and responding to them?  I propose a value-based framework.  Previously published was a human-centered approach to tacking overload; in the following I cover a different route, as I distinguish between value and values and then offer several academic scaffolds from which the reader may select values to apply as filters for incoming messages.

Value is an elusive concept with multiple meanings stemming from diverse disciplines ranging from philosophy to psychology, economics and beyond.  In the economic sense, value means that consumers are willing to pay for a good or service to their desired extent.  Payment may be monetary, however, in interactive systems payment is usually by implicit currency: time and attention.  Would we place a monetary price tag on such personal currency?  This question awaits further research.

Finding a simple economic trade off model for value would be attractive, if we could directly tie utility and value, for example.  But value is complex.  The marketing literature shows that people place value on the shopping experience, the interaction with the salesperson, social status of the purchase, social responsibility of the manufacturer, to name a few variables that are unrelated to utility but strongly related to value.  In the digital information environment the situation becomes even more perplexing as the quantity of information is massive, making scarcity-based economic utility valuations uncommon, often irrelevant.

The concept of value is further complicated by the difference between the singular and plural forms of the word.  Briefly, ‘value’ in singular usually refers either to an object’s monetary worth or to a preferential judgment of one option over others. ‘Values’ in plural refer to a person’s internal standards that guide the person’s decisions.  These definitions suggest that value relies on values: preferences are based on internal criteria.  For example, if one of my internal standards is high regard to aesthetics, I will prefer an aesthetic object over a plain one.  Obviously, the perception of aesthetics is subjective.  What seems aesthetic to one person may seem plain to someone else and vice versa.

A prominent characteristic of incoming digital messages is that a growing proportion of them come into our attention zone without invitation.  No wonder they are called ‘push’ messages or ‘feed’.  Pushing and feeding conveys the information provider’s need to market its messages largely disregarding the recipients’ needs to work, pursue personal interests, and use time wisely.  Reflecting on our values as consumers of information may help to balance our needs with the ‘push’ and ‘feed’ influx.

So the next question is: if value relies on values, what are useful values for dealing with information overload?  I offer the idea of value-based consumption which relies on general consumer value frameworks and adapts them to the special case of information.  Famous consumer values frameworks include, among others, the Rokeach Value Survey, the List of Values approach (LOV), Holbrook’s typology and Sheth et al.’s theory of consumer values (Beatty, Kahle, Homer, & Misra, 1985; Holbrook, 1999; Sheth, Newman, & Gross, 1991).

The Rokeach Value Survey is quite elaborate, consisting of 36 values divided into two groups; however, its length renders it impractical for the current discussion.  The LOV and Holbrook’s typology are presented in Table 1.

Table 1  
List Of Values (LOV) Holbrook’s Consumer Values Typology
Sense of belonging Efficiency
Fun & enjoyment Play
Warm relationships with others Excellence
Self-fulfillment Aesthetics
Being well-respected Status
Excitement Ethics
Sense of accomplishment Esteem
Security Spirituality


Taken together these values guide our consumer choices in most, if not all, consumption opportunities.  Which values seem most relevant for information consumption?  Some values may be more prominent when consuming information for personal/leisure purposes while other values may be more relevant to the work environment.

Turning our attention to work, the assumption is that information should serve a purpose such as efficient and effective or collaborative or inventive work.  With such goals in mind efficiency, excellence, status and esteem (from Holbrook’s typology) seem like relevant values with ethics being a constant value to pursue concurrently.  In fact, the same values can be applied in order to evaluate which messages to send to colleagues.  The flip side of consumption is production: each of us produces a multitude of outgoing messages.  Information overload is fueled to some extent by unnecessary private, public and group messages and posts.  Possibly, thinking about consumer values before posting may aid in noise reduction.

Sheth et al. offered a theory of consumer values which seems useful for information consumption decisions because it deals directly with a core reason for seeking information, the desire to understand and expand knowledge.  This highly-cited theory consists of five over-arching values:

Functional value which describes the utility, quality or price compatibility of a purchase.

Social value where a purchase aids in signaling the consumer’s association with a specific group.

Emotional value with positive or negative valence, such as romance, aesthetics or fear.

Epistemic value where the object of consumption raises curiosity, satisfies a need for knowledge or provides novelty.

Conditional value arises when consumption is circumstantial.  For example, certain events lead to consumption (wedding, illness, season of year etc.).


Sheth et al.’s framework is believed to withstand variations in culture and the passing of time. In addition, it is short and easy to operationalize. For example, one can devise email filters corresponding to the Sheth et al. values such as:

Work – to contain assignments, consultations, reports etc.

Social – to contain correspondence with friends.

Emotional – to contain correspondence with family or information relating to hobbies.

Knowledge – to follow recommended readings and important updates.

Current affairs – to keep up with events such as conferences.


Messages that don’t fit one of our values will be deemed ‘spam’.

As far as social media go, the same filters may be applied by assigning each filter its share of time.  The average person spends about 100 minutes per day on social media.  One can decide to split this time equally between the five values or divide the time in a manner corresponding to specific preferences.

In summary, time and attention are valuable resources owned by consumers of information.  Evaluating communicative activity in light of a pre-defined set of values can aid in prioritizing messages and mitigating the sense of information overload and its consequences on effectiveness.




Beatty, S. E., Kahle, L. R., Homer, P., & Misra, S. (1985). Alternative measurement approaches to consumer values: The list of values and the rokeach value survey. Psychology & Marketing, 2(3), 181-200.

Holbrook, M. B. (1999). Consumer value: A framework for analysis and research Psychology Press.

Sheth, J. N., Newman, B. I., & Gross, B. L. (1991). Why we buy what we buy: A theory of consumption values. Journal of Business Research, 22(2), 159-170.

Daphne Raban
Daphne Raban

A Senior Lecturer and founding Head of the Department of Information & Knowledge Management at the University of Haifa and a member of LINKS, the Israeli Center of Research Excellence on Learning in a Networked Society.

Daphne Raban

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