How information can make us happy or miserable, and why we sometimes avoid it and sometimes seek it out.
How much information is too much? Do we need to know how many calories are in the giant vat of popcorn that we bought on our way into the movie theater? Do we want to know if we are genetically predisposed to a certain disease? Can we do anything useful with next week's weather forecast for Paris if we are not in Paris? In Too Much Information, Cass Sunstein examines the effects of information on our lives. Policymakers emphasize “the right to know,” but Sunstein takes a different perspective, arguing that the focus should be on human well-being and what information contributes to it. Government should require companies, employers, hospitals, and others to disclose information not because of a general “right to know” but when the information in question would significantly improve people's lives.
Sunstein argues that the information on warnings and mandatory labels is often confusing or irrelevant, yielding no benefit. He finds that people avoid information if they think it will make them sad (and seek information they think will make them happy). Our information avoidance and information seeking is notably heterogeneous—some of us do want to know the popcorn calorie count, others do not. Of course, says Sunstein, we are better off with stop signs, warnings on prescriptions drugs, and reminders about payment due dates. But sometimes less is more. What we need is more clarity about what information is actually doing or achieving.
About the Author
Cass R. Sunstein, Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School, was Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration. He was the recipient of the 2018 Holberg Prize, one of the largest annual international research prizes awarded to scholars who have made outstanding contributions to research in the arts and humanities, social science, law, or theology. He is the author of The Cost-Benefit Revolution, How Change Happens (both published by the MIT Press), Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (with Richard H. Thaler), and other books.
“The book actually delivers something stranger and more interesting than the announced thesis: a tour of human biases that end up creating 'behavioral market failures.' Too Much Information doesn’t replace that generational certainty with a new one, but it does make it impossible to continue regarding information disclosure as an uncomplicated good.”
– New York Times Book Review
"Sunstein's book is an invaluable font of information about the many burdens of disclosing too much information."
"An accessible treatise on the need to ensure that information improves citizens’ wellbeing with a narrative [that] is clear and relatable."
– Kirkus Reviews
“Sunstein writes in clear, accessible language throughout. This balanced and well-informed take illuminates an obscure but significant corner of government policy making.”
“Anyone who’s ever tried to read Apple’s Terms & Conditions contract knows what this Harvard Law prof is talking about as he weighs the legal and psychological implications, as well as the benefits and drawbacks, of information disclosure.”
–The Globe & Mail
"Classic Cass Sunstein: Keen insights and bracingly clear prose fill every page. The chapter on Facebook alone is a compelling reason to read Too Much Information."
– Robert H. Frank, H. J. Louis Professor of Management and Professor of Economics, Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management; author of Under the Influence: Putting Peer Pressure to Work
"Once again Cass Sunstein shows that evaluating policy questions with evidence and rigor not only leads to better governance but can be intellectually exhilarating."
– Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University; author of Enlightenment Now
"Years at the White House uniquely prepared Cass — a worldrenowned behavioral scientist — to write this important book. His mustread arguments about when governments should and should not require companies to disclose information draw on entertaining anecdotes supported by rigorous research."
– Katy Milkman, Professor, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania; host of the Choiceology podcast
"Cass Sunstein offers a unique and incredibly valuable perspective on information and how it affects people’s choices, presented in a masterful way."
– Linda Thunstrom, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, University of Wyoming
"Sunstein offers an endless supply of thoughtprovoking and accessible examples to highlight the fascinating questions at the heart of information disclosure policy. This book changed how I think about what information to seek out in my own life."
– Jacob Goldin, Associate Professor of Law, Stanford Law School