A new Life of Tech


Only 20% of US adults have information overload, but those who do feel burden

Even though there are greater flows of information, people have more tools to help them deal with it, senior researcher John Horrigan said.
Even though there are greater flows of information, people have more tools to help them deal with it, senior researcher John Horrigan said. Photograph: Jeff Huang / Alamy/Alamy

Some 20% of American adults feel the burden of information overload, with that figure at least doubling among those from poorer or less educated backgrounds, according to a report released today by the Pew Research Center.

“The large majority of Americans do not feel that information overload is a problem for them,” the authors of the report said, pointing out that fewer Americans feel overloaded now than they did in 2006, when the figure was 27%. Furthermore, 77% of US adults say they like having so much information at their fingertips.

“We thought it was surprising that the rate was so low and that it has fallen fairly substantially in the last decade,” said senior researcher John Horrigan. He suggested that the decline in people reporting information overload is due to the increased availability of digital access tools such as tablet computers, smartphones and broadband.

“Even though there are greater flows of information flying around, we think the fact that people have more tools to help them allows them to deal with it,” he said.

However, the sense of “information overwhelm” is made worse by the digital divide. “Those who are more likely to feel information overload have less technology and are poorer, less well-educated and older,” the authors said.

Forty-five percent of people with high school degrees sometimes feel stressed about the amount of information they have to follow, compared with 39% of those with college degrees or more. Similarly, 47% of those whose household income is less than $30,000 sometimes feel stressed by the information they have to keep track of compared with 39% of those earning more than $75,000.

The problem becomes even more acute in specific situations when institutions such as banks, government agencies or schools impose high information demands on people.

“There are some members of society that don’t have the range of tools that many of us do. They are the ones that feel the stress. It suggests that institutions might want to be more patient with parts of the population who may not be as digitally sophisticated,” Horrigan said.

“Information overload is a terrible scourge of modern society,” said Jonathan Spira, author of Overload, a book that examines the cost of the problem to businesses. “It has caused people to lose their ability to manage thoughts and ideas, contemplate, and even reason and think.

“After 15 years of studying the problem of information overload I was so overloaded I had to find something else to do.”

Spira believes, contrary to Pew’s research, that the problem is getting worse and that it is illustrated by the current epidemic of fake news. “That’s an information overload problem. There is so much information out there that people are no longer able to distinguish between legitimate information and fake news.”

Information overload is not without its upsides, according to Pew’s report. “People’s abilities to access information online can open new doors to knowledge, facilitate connections with friends and make all sorts of transactions convenient,” researchers said.


Street Fighter V: victory and diversity in the eSports world final

Street Fighter V Capcom Cup.
Street Fighter V Capcom Cup. An influx of money, and interest from sports channels eager to broadcast the zeitgeist, has brought major money into the scene. Photograph: Robert Paul/Capcom/Robert Paul

The atmosphere in the competitor pen at the 2016 Capcom Cup in Anaheim, California, is weirdly tranquil – despite the stakes. There’s a $230,000 cheque waiting for the winner, $60,000 for the runner-up. The room, snugly closed off from a shanty town of flight cases, stage lights and wires behind the sweeping stage is lined with sofas, on which the eight finalists sit. In 10 minutes they will emerge to a full house of hollers and applause, ready to make their bids in the annual competition to crown the best Street Fighter player in the world.

In the middle of the room, two trestle tables sag under the weight of monitors, on which the finalists are free to warm up their fingers with practice games. There are, however, no preparatory or prayerful rituals going on back here; only the idle swiping of phones. I sink into the couch beside 32-year-old Ricki Ortiz, one of two Americans to reach the finals (the other six competitors all come from Street Fighter’s home of Japan). What does she do to prepare for a major fixture like this, I ask. “Me?” she says. “I had a quick nap.”

Three hours later, Ortiz finds herself in the final two, preparing to compete against young rival Du Dang, who goes by the handle NuckleDu. Dang, 20, has risen quickly through the ranks, competing in Street Fighter IV tournaments with veteran character Guile. Dang is famed for his use of aggressive tactics and in-game taunts to mock opponents; Ortiz is an expert in reading other players and using pinpoint counters. Ortiz has the experience to win, but she’s only seeded 26 in this competition. Currently Dang has the form.

It’s been a two-day tournament of surprises – or, as I hear one audience member describe it in south London patois, of “blow ups all over”. In part, the unexpected results are a function of the game at the centre of it all. Street Fighter V, launched this year, is, most professional players agree, a scrappier, less predictable proposition than its forebears. “It’s a very erratic game,” explains Ortiz. “The tide can turn quickly. It’s hard for players to be consistent, which is good for the crowd because there can be upsets.” By the end of the first day of the two-day tournament, many of the odds-on favourites (most major gambling sites now take bets on video game tournaments like this) have been relegated, including Daigo Umehara, the 35-year-old Japanese Street Fighter doyen.

Street Fighter V Capcom Cup
Audience members at the Street Fighter V Capcom Cup. Photograph: Robert Paul/Robert Paul/Capcom

The excitement isn’t confined to the room. On Twitch, where the entire tournament is broadcast live around the world with accompanying chatter from so-called shoutcasters (a preposterous, redundant neologism for video game commentators derived from their high-decibel, rapid fire crescendos of observation), close to 100,000 people tune in to watch the final. Many of these viewers tap out their own commentary – sarcastic or jubilant remarks and emoji – via an ever-flowing waterfall of text beneath the video stream. Hive mind jokes flare up then expire like fireworks. Each time a British player loses a match the throng, en mass, posts the word “BREXIT!” to mark the departure (by the end of the first day there are no Europeans left in the winner’s bracket). The banter has all the jostle and ribaldry of the football stand. Yet here, it’s accelerated and amplified by technology, as if all 50,000 supporters at Wembley Stadium could be heard speaking at once, with equal volume. It’s exhilarating. It’s exhausting.

It’s also, in many cases, unpleasant. When Ortiz takes to the stage, the chat blackens into a torrent of comments about her appearance; something that none of her male co-competitors suffer. “I hate how the fighting game community treats LGBT people,” writes one viewer. Ortiz may be a veteran champion in the Street Fighter scene but, as a transgender woman, she is a wearied target of harassment. Since 2003, Ortiz has finished seventh or higher 12 times at the world’s biggest fighting game tournament, Evolution Championship Series (or EVO), now held annually in Las Vegas. Even though she races to tonight’s final, for many of the online audience, her expertise is the less important aspect of her identity. “My skill takes a backseat,” Ortiz told a reporter for Playboy last year. “People question my gender identity v me playing the game.”

Ortiz’s skill is, nevertheless, self-evident. By 9:30pm, she has beaten last year’s winner, Ryota “Kazunoko” Inoue, without losing a bout to make this an all-American final. She learned to play Street Fighter as an eight-year-old, when her father, a metal worker from California would take her and her cousin to a local amusement arcade. An interest in the game soon blossomed into an obsession. Ortiz would compete at the arcades after school each day. She entered and won her first Street Fighter tournament at 13. “It was unheard of for a kid my age to have thousands of dollars, she told me. “Kids just didn’t have that kind of money, especially in the early 2000s.”

A growing concern

Those prize pots have grown drastically in recent years in the nascent world of eSports. An influx of advertising dollars, and interest from sports channels eager to broadcast the zeitgeist, has brought major money into the scene. Coca-Cola, Nissan, Red Bull and Intel are all inveterate sponsors on the scene, targeting the huge crowds that follow titles like League of Legends, Dota 2 and Starcraft 2 (one that game’s best players, Sasha Hostyn, is also a transgender woman). Compared to those heavy hitters, Street Fighter is something of a middleweight. Earlier this year at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles, a crowd of 20,000 gathered to watch the 2016 championship final of League of Legends, the widest played video game in the world. The winners of that event, the drearily named SK Telecom (the team is backed by the South Korean wireless telecommunications operator) took home a $2m purse.


The 10 best video games of 2016

Uncharted 4’s action man Nathan Drake.

1 Uncharted 4
(Naughty Dog; PlayStation 4)

In some ways, the fourth title in Naughty Dog’s wildly successful action adventure series looks like the archetypal join-the-dots sequel. We’re still following roguish Nathan Drake as he scours the planet for ancient artefacts. We’re still solving simple environmental puzzles and shooting the bad guys. And the script still plunders just about every cliche it can from the Indiana Jones films.

But that’s only part of the story. This wonderfully entertaining game is effectively about marriage – or, more accurately, the things we have to learn about ourselves to maintain long-term relationships. Nathan lies to his partner Elena and leans heavily on his friend Sully, but has to learn to be less selfish and irresponsible – a lesson made all the more urgent and poignant by the arrival of his troubled brother, Sam. That a big popcorn blockbuster is exploring these themes so engagingly and movingly is a testament to how this medium has matured over the last five years.

Meanwhile, we also get everything we want from a lavish big-budget game: astonishing visuals, imaginative locations and some truly thrilling set pieces – the Madagascan marketplace scene is a classic. Even if you don’t fall for the love story, you’ll fall for the well-paced, well-engineered action – and if the ending doesn’t get you right in the gut, you’re not human. Read the review.

Walk … Pokémon Go.
You can’t leave that Clefairy there … Pokémon Go. Photograph: Frances Mao/AAP

2 Pokémon Go
(Niantic Inc; 3DS, iOS, Android)

Sure, many players tired of this slight, stripped-down Pokémon adventure after the first glorious fortnight. But its brilliance lay in how it used augmented reality and location-based technology to captivate not just early-adopter geeks, but whole families. Wandering through towns and parks looking for Jigglypuffs and Caterpies, meeting other players and exchanging tips, proved one of the highlights of the summer. For many of us still, no walk is complete without it. Read more.

3 Firewatch
(Campo Santo; PC, PS4, Xbox One)

Personal discovery … Firewatch. Photograph: Publicity image

With beautiful visuals and a haunting story of personal discovery, Firewatch was one of the year’s most fascinating experimental titles. Lead character Henry has escaped a difficult life to watch for fires in the Wyoming wilderness, but while he’s investigating odd events in the woods, the real focus of the narrative is his relationship with radio operator Delilah. Using the conventions of an open-world adventure, developer Campo Santo produces something much more haunting, unusual and important. Read the review.

4 Inside
(Playdead; PC, PS4, Xbox One)

Inside game
Thoughtful … Inside. Photograph: Playdead Games

Danish developer Playdead attracted massive critical acclaim in 2010 for its moody, monochrome adventure Limbo. This spiritual successor is, if anything, even more sombre and impressive, set in a dark, Orwellian dystopia where people are mere cogs in an unknowable machine – that is, until one small boy makes a dramatic bid for escape. Employing the mechanics of a 2D platformer, Inside is something much more profound, offering a thoughtful fable as well as a diverting challenge. Read the review.

5 Stardew Valley
(ConcernedApe; PC)

Stardew Valley
Whimsy … Stardew Valley. Photograph: Chucklefish

Part farming sim, part role-playing adventure, Stardew Valley was the surprise indie hit of the year, offering charm, wit and a beautiful little world. Created by lone coder Eric Barone, it’s an exploration of, and alternative to, the Harvest Moon series, allowing the player free rein to set up a farm, pursue relationships, and take on quests as the seasons pass in a flood of colour and whimsy. Tech Weekly podcast discusses Stardew Valley.