Dr. Torkel Klingberg is a co-founder of Cogmed and professor of neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute. He recently released The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory.
What is the origin of information overload?
I think that there are three important factors that make the modern workplace so cognitively demanding: the sheer amount of information, the frequency of distractions and multitasking. I think we are seeing an increasing amount of each of these factors, and this is being driven by technological advances as well as the growing pressure to get a lot done in short time.
What role does working memory play in our ability to navigate a sea of information?
Working memory has a central role because it is related to all three of the trends I mentioned previously: information overload, distractibility and multitasking. As technological developments make these three factors more prevalent we’re seeing a society develop that is extremely demanding of working memory.
What should someone do if they find they are constrained by their ability to focus?
There are a lot of useful pieces of advice for handling information overload. They include reducing distractions, doing one thing at a time and using external aids instead of keeping information in working memory. All of these are ways to function better when the demand to keep track of information outweighs our working memory capacity. And for many people, strengthening their working memory through training will also have a large impact on their performance.
What role does cognitive training – in particular Cogmed Working Memory Training – play in addressing the larger problem of information overload?
Initially, we did not develop the Cogmed training program as a response to information overload. But as we learn more about working memory through extensive research, it makes perfect sense that improving working memory can be a crucial advantage when demands increase.