President-Elect’s Column: Recycled Inspiration and Information Fatigue

Krishna Kumar

Krishna Kumar

V. Krishna Kumar, PhD
kkumar@wcupa.edu

If you belong to any social media, you are familiar with the endless stream of recycled inspirational and informational (nutritional/medical/exercise/travel/political) messages in the forms of sayings, videos, short—actually rather long—stories on social media that ping in your inbox 24/7. Of course, some of this is not restricted to social media. Many of our colleagues from around the world include inspirational quotations from eminent and not so eminent individuals at the bottom of their professional e-mails after they have listed their diplomas, accomplishments, and affiliations. Not so long ago, irrelevant information was either not, or rarely, included in professional letters, handwritten or typed on typewriters. The Internet makes it all too easy for us to disseminate useless, or maybe, but rarely, useful information whether it is to (a) keep in touch with others; (b) urge us to make lifestyle changes (e.g., to make us drink a full glass of water with a twist of lemon first thing in the morning, learn how to beat stress sitting in a chair with tons of papers around to work on); (c) share inspirational thoughts; or (d) show off intellectual qualities.

The Epstein-Barr Virus has been associated with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The metaphor of “virus” works well to describe the effects of these endlessly recycled messages—not only in terms of how they spread quickly far and wide but also for ailments they may cause in people who are exposed to them. I worry most about two ailments that can be caused by this social media practice: Inspiration Fatigue and Information (fake or otherwise) Fatigue. These fatigues probably work the same way as Compassion Fatigue. You can only see the messages so many times before your mind bookmarks it as “I have seen that message before” and you quickly click to move on to the next one or hit the delete button.

How much inspiration is enough for us to get or keep moving to do things? Perhaps the effect of inspirational messages on arousing inspiration follows the Yerkes-Dodson law of a curvilinear relationship: a few or many messages may not work, but some medium number may work better; however, I suspect the effect size would be small (I was inspired by Cohen’s d notion of effect size to make this hunch). On the other hand, it is possible that a negative linear association may exist where a few inspirational messages work better to inspire people with declining effects (yes, causal effect!) as the number of messages increases. In my view, the plausibility of a negative or positive (or causal) linear relationship between the number of messages and their impact on inspiration is low because Compassion Fatigue may set in rather rapidly.

Some people recommend a rather easy solution to this problem of endlessly recycled inspirational and/or informational messages: just delete them if you do not want to read them. However, I think repetitively striking the delete button may cause finger fatigue, or worse Carpal Tunnel Syndrome requiring surgical intervention. But quite annoyingly, constant deletion uses up time that you can use to read a truly inspirational post (I was inspired by the FOMO phenomenon to make this inference). Perhaps a radical solution would be to get off the listserv and other social media altogether—this is indeed possible, but probably not an easy one to implement because to do so may mean a lot of FOMO on relational (possibly good gossip or obviously fake news) and professional matters.

In any case, it is important to understand why inspirational messages have gone viral on social media. Is it that message senders believe that people have a need to be constantly prodded to keep going in their everyday life? Or, is it that people have a need to inspire others (I was inspired by Henry Murray’s notion of needs to raise this question)? Or, might it be that people who have a need to inspire others do so because they are projecting their own low inspiration levels (I was inspired by Freud to raise this question)?

We do not understand why inspirational messages are sent around so much on social media—this is an important area of study and many issues need to be addressed (in making this assertion I was inspired by manuscripts, including mine, that stress the need for more research despite the stated putative importance of reported findings). Much as I do not like to receive another inspirational message, I must confess that these recycled inspirational messages did inspire me to write this short, perhaps too long for some, essay.

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