Information Overload in a Network of Targeted Communication

32 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2001

See all articles by Timothy Van Zandt

Timothy Van Zandt

INSEAD - Economics and Political Sciences; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Date Written: June 2001


As the costs of generating and transmitting information fall, the main bottlenecks in communication networks are becoming the human receivers, who are overloaded with information. For networks of targeted communication, this paper discusses the meaning of information overload, provides a theoretical treatment of its causes, and examines mechanisms for allocating the attention of receivers. Mechanisms for allocating attention include surcharges on communication and auctions. These mechanisms increase the cost of sending messages and shift the task of screening messages from the receivers to the senders. This shift may benefit both the receivers and the senders because the senders know the contents of the messages whereas the receivers do not. We show that, if the communication cost is low, then an increase in the communication cost benefits most (but not all) receivers. The increase benefits all the senders if either the extra cost is a tax that is redistributed to them as lump-sum transfers or if the senders' information about the receivers is sufficiently accurate.

Keywords: Information overload, limited attention

JEL Classification: D62, D83

Suggested Citation

Van Zandt, Timothy, Information Overload in a Network of Targeted Communication (June 2001). Available at SSRN:

Timothy Van Zandt (Contact Author)

INSEAD - Economics and Political Sciences ( email )

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Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

United Kingdom

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