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noun [uncountable]

the condition of continually consuming large amounts of information, especially when this has a negative effect on a person's well-being and ability to concentrate



'… the digital deluge is affecting everybody, and not in a good way. Our survey … suggests that nearly half of the UK's office workers are suffering from Infobesity, the over-consumption of information. It's making us unhappy, is bad for our health, and hurts our productivity.'

Huffington Post 17th July 2014

'The dilemmas of an infobese parent … Margarine, or butter? Routine, or demand feed? Have inoculations, or chance it? In a world where everything you could ever wish to know is literally at your fingertips, are we paralysed by knowing too much.'

Aquarius Magazine 10th September 2012

Too much information. No, not a personal revelation causing embarrassment to the listener, but a 21st century malaise with a brand new moniker. If you're a constant consumer of the relentless feast of information which is available in the digital era, then you could be an unsuspecting sufferer of a condition described as infobesity.

infobesity appears to be an epidemic. It's practically impossible to be a web user without succumbing to occasional … bouts of randomly looking at things which serve no significant purpose

We live in a world in which information is king, and the days of waiting to receive it or leaving the house to find it are long gone. Whether at home, work or on the move, anything we might conceivably wish to know is right there, just a few key presses or mouse-clicks away. The Internet offers a never-ending onslaught of facts, figures, images and info ad nauseam, which, it's been observed, we have a tendency to indiscriminately digest without hesitation. But the problem is that, just like eating one too many doughnuts, gorging ourselves silly on all of this stuff is not always a good idea. It can make us sluggish, indecisive and unable to concentrate on the task at hand. This is a state of affairs that's informally been dubbed infobesity – the tendency to crave and digest information even when this isn't always necessary or effective for our needs.

Perhaps even more disturbingly, infobesity appears to be an epidemic. It's practically impossible to be a web user without succumbing to occasional, if not frequent, bouts of randomly looking at things which serve no significant purpose for you, and thereby wasting time and effort which might have been better spent in other ways (guilty as charged!). These days, it seems, it's all too easy to become infobese, with many of us falling prey to a 'junk food' diet of non-essential and sometimes low-quality information.

Background – infobesity

The creative coinage infobesity is a blend based on the words information and obesity (the condition of being overweight in a way which is unhealthy). The noun obesity dates back to the early 17th century, and is based on the Latin form obesus meaning 'having eaten until fat'. The related adjective obese came along about 40 years later, via a process technically known as back-formation (where a shorter word is formed from a longer word which already exists in a language). Mirroring this pattern, infobese is used as a counterpart adjective to infobesity.

The term infobesity draws a parallel between excessive consumption of information and the negative consequences of unhealthy western diets. Another blend following the same principle is globesity – a combination of global and obesity, characterizing the developed world's widespread problem of being dangerously overweight.

Back on the theme of information, rather than food, consumption, in business circles there's also been a buzz recently surrounding a phenomenon known as content shock. On the basis that the human capacity to absorb information isn't completely limitless, this expression describes the situation of people reaching saturation point – a scenario with potentially serious consequences for so-called content marketing (marketing strategies which acquire customers through the creation and sharing of published content).

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

Last week …

Read last week's BuzzWord article. Mom jeans.

This article was first published on 23rd September 2014.

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a form of location that involves the underwater detonation of a bomb which causes sound waves that are picked up by ships

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