As of this last month, I’m convinced that information overload is hurting our souls.
A common factoid spread around the blogosphere tells us that a single edition of the New York Times contains more information on its pages than the average person in the 17th century accumulated in a lifetime. Whether true or not, it doesn’t take a sociology degree to know that we’re bombarded with increasing amounts of data we must process daily. I think about the sheer amount of medical knowledge today and wonder how any doctor can possibly do his job without becoming irrelevant in only a couple years. Or consider how high-tech spawns and kills off new technology almost every day.
We don’t have to be doctors or IT specialists to know that the average person today must not only process local events, but happenings on the other side of the world. It’s not enough that a local teacher was killed in a car accident over the weekend, but a bus full of nuns holding babies in their arms went off a cliff in Outer Pradesh. It’s difficult enough to know the pain of our neighbors, but now the whole world is our neighborhood, and the newspaper screams the entire planet’s misery. Add in the Web, e-mail, TV, radio, and some new media yet to be produced, and you’ve created a litany of laments few rational adults can process.
Estimates vary widely, but some claim that publishers put out as many as 300,000 book titles last year alone, up from the year before, which was an increase over the year previous—and so it goes. Each book comes packed with information we must process, facts we must consider and digest. Data, data, data.
Many of those titles come from Christian publishing houses. Into that mix we add Christian magazines, music, curricula, television and even Bibles. And now we have the new phenomenon of the blogosphere, complete with its own Christianized blogs.
I used to skim through about 100 Christian blogs via Bloglines. I dropped that to about fifty. Now I’m down to about the same dozen. And I might need to trim even those.
I can’t speak for you, but I look at my own soul and see confusion. I can no longer process all the information hitting me daily. I cut my blog diet down simply because I’d come away from reading with an itchy scalp that required constant scratching. Too many opinions. Too many contrary facts. Too many discussions of esoteric theological minutia. Too many book reviews of too many “must-read” books guaranteed to make me a better servant of Christ.
But what I’m discovering, contrary to the pervasive wisdom of educating oneself, makes me wonder if this information deluge might be hindering the discipleship process God created rather than boosting it. One book tells me how to pray, but another claims that other book has it wrong. This blog here discusses the finer points of infralapsiarianism, with several blog participants yelling at each other. After a while, everyone is simultaneously right and wrong. I can’t possibly give any of it much deep thought. What I tend to do instead is build a wall around myself to keep the facts from demanding too much of me.
The restlessness many people feel in their souls may be due to an inability to handle this data deluge. I consider myself a fairly competent processor of info, but I can’t do it all anymore. When Paul tells Timothy to study in order to show himself to be an approved workman, I highly doubt he wrote of what you or I contend with daily. As the foremost book says:
Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
Consider how many books the average person in Solomon’s day might encounter. There’s not a person reading this now who doesn’t own more books than a hundred households even a hundred years ago. Did Paul advise Timothy to sit down with a stack of systematic theologies? Was he advocating collecting the complete works of this rabbi or that and poring over them until their wisdom filled every nook and cranny of Tim’s noggin?
We know about Pavlov’s dog, but do we know about Seligman’s? That dog, placed in a wire pen, received an electric shock whenever a tone sounded. After a while, the dog sat helplessly whimpering in the corner of its cage on hearing the tone, even without the shock.
I believe that one reason the Christian Church in America continues to struggle with meeting the demands of the Kingdom comes from an overload of data, a sort of constant mental electroshock. Every time someone dumps another factoid on us, we run cowering to the corner, afraid of whatever inevitable damage must afflict us for the knowing. We live in a perpetual state of cognitive dissonance that sends us begging for it all to stop.
People beg for it to stop in different ways. Some throw themselves into one source that they hope might stem the noise from other sources. Others go searching for even more info, without knowing they’re using more to keep from dealing with the consequences of truths they already grasp. Others simply go into a self-imposed shell. Some avoid anything that smacks of more information, but they don’t know how to ultimately turn off the noise, growing frustrated.
And it has become noise, hasn’t it? Even the genuine signal gets lost when it’s pumped up to ear-splitting volumes. In a world hellbent on getting this message or that through the noise, life’s volume knob comes preset at eleven.
Who can blame people for failing to respond? With all that shouting, even from Christian sources, who can tell what’s right? Better to not risk doing the wrong thing based on conflicting info than to look stupid. And who knows what’s right and what’s wrong with everyone shouting?
It seems unbelievable to think that buying one more Christian book to read might be the wrong thing to do, or that perusing a respected Godblog might be a hindrance to growth. Or consider that Sunday’s sermon might be yet one more set of commands we can’t possibly live up to simply because it must contend with all the other data we don’t have time for. Lately, when I look at all the input, I don’t have any other way to think of it.
Listening to too many voices, even when those voices are good, is still the sign of a schizophrenic life.
I don’t know that that means for Cerulean Sanctum. I don’t want to add to the turmoil. I don’t want this blog to join others in numbing people to the Gospel. Whenever life gets reduced to a anesthetized blur, all meaning is lost. God never intended for us to dwell in a perpetual state of information overload.
I’m thinking. What are you thinking?
31 thoughts on “Of Godblogs & Gobbledygook”
I am thinking you are correct on information overload for me–it just seems I am addicted to all the quick information I can receive–so I don’t know how to stop?
It is hard to stop. We have something wired in us to know about things, but knowing when enough is enough isn’t easy. It’s like the old Lays Potato Chips commercial, “No one can eat just one.”
You are correct that Paul wasn’t telling Timothy to sit down with a pile of books and ingest huge amounts of information daily.
The word “study” is an unfortunate translation choice. The word really is closer to “be diligent”, and is translated similarly (“do thy diligence”) two other times in that very same book (2 Timothy 4:9 and 2 Timothy 4:21). 2 Timothy 2:15 is the only case out of 11 occurrences of that word throughout the New Testament in which the KJV chose to use the word “study”.
Maybe “study” had a different idea in the 17th century than it does now, but your point is very applicable, at least in this century.
I guess the idea there is to see this as a discipline. And a discipline doesn’t have to go overboard, just be pursued regularly. Perhaps simply reading the Bible consistently fulfills the idea of study.
I find myself wrapping myself in a comfy cocoon of voices which agree with mine rather than listening and reading the dissenters who expand my outlook and compassion; often rather than actually reaching out to people who don’t know Christ.
I’m daunted by the profusion of voices, and increasingly challenged to be able to sort them out.
For a while, I’ll concentrate on a few which seem to be desperate and endangered – and get drowned out by more who just enjoy arguing.
I can honestly say that the dissenters have taught me quite a bit. What I believe has changed considerably in the last five years by listening to the dissenters.
But, as you note, it’s not all about what I believe, it’s how I practice what I believe. And I think that’s where most of us stumble, particularly those of us who are information junkies. It’s one thing to be ever learning, but if we never put that learning into practice, it’s essentially worthless.
You’ve hit the nail on the head.
I’ve also cut my blog intake down to about eight blogs a day. Congratulations! Cerulean Sanctum made the cut! Last Friday I bought my first book in 2007. I still haven’t read all the books I bought in 2006. Why buy more?
Information overload is a problem and James tells us that it isn’t a lack of information, but a lack of obedience that is THE problem. I think our information intake anesthetizes us to our disobedience. We believe that more learning equals spirituality.
At one point I owned about 30 books on marriage. Now when someone asks for marital help I have one book, besides the Bible, to recommend.
Thanks for including Cerulean Sanctum.
My problem wasn’t the time it takes to read all those blogs. Instead, I simply could not process all they said. And since many of them had widely disparate takes on Christianity, it only served to leave me reeling as I tried to think about all the thousands of ideas and theological points they raised. The effect proved quite unsettling.
Yep, you’re right about the obedience issue.
As for the books on marriage, the two I read recently, For Women Only and For Men Only by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn stood out. In a sea of marriage books, those two are keepers.
And here I was, wondering why a sitcom about “nothing” was so popular. The ability of the human to “tune-out” random noise is well known, so much so that the treatment for over-sensitive hearing is to bombard the listener with constant noise at a certain pitch until the person becomes desensitized. We are handed so much data, much of it incomplete, that we are incapable of making a rational conclusion, even though we are constantly encouraged to: “We report, you decide” becomes an impossible task.
Supposedly, we humans are capable of walking into a room of talking people, hearing every conversation in the room simultaneously, and then recalling every conversation word for word. It requires intense concentration, however. In the past, there were people who sought the total sum of knowledge, and there were many who actually believed they acheived it. According to one story, “Frankenstein’s Monster” was a novel created from the meeting of some of those people. True or not, it is obvious to anyone who has attempted a go at “A Brief History of Time” that knowing everything is impossible for us mere mortals.
Do we even try? Or do we simply focus on the truly daunting: Knowing God?
God calls on us to remember what He has done for us. In doing so, we reaffirm our trust in Him. But often we are so busy with the worries of tomorrow, that we forget how God got us through yesterday.
“Or do we simply focus on the truly daunting: Knowing God?”
That gets my vote (Jeremiah 9:23-24). That is all that matters in the long run or the short term, and it is the thing that doesn’t require anything else but what we personally bring to the table (as long as the Bible is on that table too). Of course, this assumes that one believes God can be known in a personally experiential, or interactive way.
We don’t need libraries, newscasts, commentators, or coaches in order to know someone and develop a friendship with them. Knowing God personally, interactively is the anchor to the soul.
The only problem I find with the idea that knowing God is all we need is that the knowledge isn’t merely head knowledge. The demons believe and have the knowledge—but they don’t rightly practice the ramifications of what they know. That’s the distinction here.
God manifests himself in the practice. Want to know God more? Practice what you already know about Him and He’ll reveal more of Himself. Our problem in this country is not primarily in having more information about God, it’s putting what we know of Him into practice. Not doing that is one reason so many Christians hit the wall when it comes to knowing God. Ironically, I’ll be blogging on this later this week.
S’Truth, that. What good is “knowing” without “acting”. I think many of the reasons we are overwhelmed by information is that we have stopped acting long enough to watch TV, read a blog, or listen to a podcast. Unfortunately, we have often replaced face time with information packing. I find an interactive bible study more informative and energizing than a book, even if that book is the Bible. We have to remember that the Bible is only words on a page until they are lived. Take the people in a bible study to a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter, and watch the word of God come to life!
Dan & David:
I agree wholeheartedly, knowing God is not the same at all, as let’s say, knowing trivia. It’s relational. Reading your bio isn’t the same as knowing you. To know you, I’d have to walk with you where you were walking. Knowing about God is not the same as knowing him. To know him one must walk with Him where He is walking, and I might add, doing with Him what He is doing.
I have a secret longing to uproot my family and move to some remote, sleepy European village where people still gather in the town square and you do your shopping in about a half dozen stores run by your neighbors.
I wish I had answers to all this. This blog used to be about solutions, but increasingly I find that our core problems are so deep, and so pervasive, that I don’t know where to start. I’ll be blogging on this later this week.
I routinely threaten to move to an off-grid cabin in Montana. There is a fine line between keeping oneself from being overwhelmed by this “age of information” and being seperated from the world. How does one gain the balance of being “in but not of”? Unline Keillor, I don’t believe it is merely a question of prepositions. We are clearly called to be in the world, seasoning, leavening, etc, but we are so quickly subsumed by the cares that overwhelm the senses.
“Oh, that I had the wings of a Dove! I would fly away, and be at rest. I would flee far away and stay in the desert. I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.” Psalm 55:6-8
Great post! Hit on a lot of what I’ve been thinking lately. To be honest, I only read two blogs every day. (Yours and Aaron T.’s, the guy who pointed me your direction) On top of that, I don’t follow news at all. The only news I even kind of follow is what’s happening here in Tuxcueca (the little town in Mexico that I live nearest to that has about 100 people in it. It helps to know who’s sick, who’s getting married, how good the cattle business is right now, etc.)
Yet, with my complete disregard for the hype of the blog and my disgust with all forms of news, your post has still struck a chord. There’s just so much bombarding us these days.
My question though is this; what do we do about it? If this is a bad thing (which I’m going to say it is) how do we stop it? Somehow I don’t think going Amish and getting rid of all technology (the primary source of information) is the answer. We’re supposed to be a light in this world. Hard to do that if we shun it.
I wonder, if we were to start focusing on truly becoming the body of Christ, living as true brothers and sisters, involved in each other’s lives on a real, personal level and then from there ministering as that body, if that shift of focus would at least help to defer a lot of the information deluge that we’re talking about. I’m thinking a bit about that post on community that you linked to a couple days back.
To make something like that work our focus would have to change so drastically, it might just do the trick. Or at least help us along. It wouldn’t remove us from the raging current of the information, but it might just give us a raft and crewmates to help us navigate it without feeling like we’re constantly fighting against drowning.
And now I’ve rambled on for quite a while and probably not even made that much sense. I will now proceed to close my mouth and get back to work.
Thanks for the post.
Our reaching out to the lost has everything to do with relationship and almost nothing to do with the trappings of culture. We simply don’t understand this.
Yes, a common language is helpful, but beyond that we make an idol of cultural intersection. The Holy Spirit transcends culture. A Holy Spirit-filled Amish man may have far more impact on a group of California surfers than a culturally-adept insider who lacks that heavenly power. The arm of flesh fails, but we keep going back to it.
The folks who have had the most impact on my life have always been the outsiders, the contrarians. The people who look most like the culture have had little to say to me because they’re so compromised. I’m compromised already. Why do I need insights from someone who can’t get out of the pit we’re both stuck in?
Uhm, as ex-Amish Menno (born and bred), I might suggest that “becoming Amish” isn’t as easy as, say, joining the local Southern Baptist congregation. Explicitily stated or not, the Amish have to decide if they want you. Are you willing to learn their regionally unique German/English dialects, unwritten and full of colloquialisms? Can you navigate several hundred years of implicit cultural expectations that you will only discover upon transgression–or not? Are you prepared to report how your grandparents and great-grandparents are directly or indirectly related to each and every Amish person you meet? Sewing your own clothes and raising a garden is the easy part. 🙂
Anyway, good post. My present circumstances allow me to feed my knowledge-lust in the blogosphere, but that will probably change in a few months when I start grad school. Like another commenter said, I dream of a quiet village in Europe. I’m sure socializing there would be much easier than going Amish. (Ha, ha)
Ok, first, that was not supposed to be a knock on the Amish. It was just the phrase I used and apparently a rather poorly chosen one, my apologies.
My point was that cutting ourselves off from the information trappings isn’t the best idea. Being culturally relevant in no way is a requirement for sharing the gospel or even getting a hearing. That much I’ll be the first to say.
Sorry that was put so poorly.
And Naomi, I know a lot of Amish and Ex-Amish people very well. I know what “going Amish” means. Like I said, poor choice of a phrase. Sorry.
*Reminds himself not to ramble on coffee breaks again*
Oh, understood; no apology necessary. It’s just that when I hear people talk about “going Amish,” my first thought is, “You’ve been reading waaay too much Beverly Lewis!” 🙂
The scripture 2 Tim 3:7 comes to mind: “…always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” I hit a point a few years ago where I stopped reading all Christian books other than the Bible for this very reason. I was inundated with material but not growing in Christ. For me, the answer [still theoretical at this point I might add] is not more books, more blogs, more information — it is more interaction with epistles of the flesh and blood kind. Of course you can’t just go to the store to pick one of those up….
I’ll be writing on this topic later this week, ironically, because that verse you quoted has haunted me for quite some time. I think everything you wrote here is very astute. Thanks.
Hi, great post! I used to argue over the nitty gritty stuff. But I grew tired of all the words. At the same time God showed me that living an authentic life in Him was so much more. I think it was Francis of Assisi
that said “Preach the gospel at all times — If necessary, use words.”
Since that day I still read a lot of blogs. I read about 15 blogs regularly. Your’s being one of them. But I look for journeys. Struggles. Honesty……. and people admitting that they do not know it all. I’m looking for fellow wander-ers who love the church.
Cerulean Sanctum gives me hope and encouragement in this journey. Thank you very much.
This post reminded me of this Scripture:
Daniel 12:4 – But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, [even] to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.
Kinda describes today’s world doesn’t it? 🙂
Oh by the way, just to run your brain even MORE ragged, here’s a link to Semiologic’s info on the broken widgets.
The terseness of that post makes me wanna smack him for some reason.
This verse also seems appropos:
Ecclesiastes 1:18 For in much wisdom [is] much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. 😀
King Solomon would have been an A-List blogger today, for sho’!
Since you asked …
I must keep in mind that none of this has taken God by surprise. He is, or should I say has been, aware of our situation. And so it must be possible to live the Christlife even in a world overflowing with information.
What I had struggled to find in this plethora of voices was a consistently trustworty source of the kind of information I need to live my life. Several years ago I began to read the writings of Dallas Willard. His voice had a different sound. And I found that he was constantly hearkening back to older writers.
Since that time I have invested most of my free time reading such people as William Law, C.S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, J. B. Phillips and most importantly George MacDonald. These men speak from outside of our situation and address the great questions that have been asked in every generation.
I have found that trying to stay “up-to-date” with the contemporary voices leads me down that path you so intuitively label “a schizophrenic life.”
Great post…. it really resonated with me. I have been pondering the fact that I have TOO many choices and options and most of the time in stead of energizing me, it paralyzes me.
Less is always more.
This is not a geographically-based truth. You can make it work where you are at. This often involves unplugging things.
In thinking that my above comment was…curt, I thought I’d try to be more practical as far as what I do to deal with this issue, since it is one I have struggled with. I have, for example, over 700 books. It’s my problem, too.
My take on the problem, as I work to overcome it, is that it is not just an issue of information overload, but that things are moving too quickly. Introverts like myself find it particularly toxic to live in a fast, stimulated environment.
So what’d I do?
I figured, since it was a problem of overload and too fast, that I needed to counteract.
1. I don’t watch the news, or much TV in general. TV news is often meant to be surface, introductory, inflammatory, and promote gut emotion. Nothing good there.
2. I limit my online reading, because it is catered to fast, bite-sized reading and not generally about savoring or dwelling on.
3. I continue to read books, because I think that the fact that the printing press wasn’t invented back in Paul’s day ought not be overlooked or ignored. Books are, in themselves, a slow thing. And that helps in solving the too-fast problem.
4. I write letters to people. Genuine pen across paper no computer printer long letters no cards to people. Again, it’s a slow thing, it’s tangible, and it speaks volumes.
5. I limit my grocery shopping to once a week, and no more “run out and grab” things, mainly since here in nowhere, North Dakota, running out to grab things is about a half-hour drive. But again, it’s a thing that goes against the “convenience” grain.
6. And so on.
In general, if it’s convenient, it’s probably harming or killing you. That goes for food, lifestyle, work, electronic devices, everything. Bring back the paper and pencil to your life, and throw away the boxed food. You’d be amazed how much time you don’t have to surf the web or watch TV anymore.
It’s always a danger to associate my vision of perfection with a place I’m not at. I’ve been to small villages in Europe, which do, indeed, have great little shops as well as an increasing number of Americanized supermarkets. The older generation are lovely. The youth, however, spray paint graffiti on everything, and throw cigarette butts all over the place. Eutopia is nowhere, and the past, stripped of idealism, was pretty harsh, too. This is the time and place I am. So I have to make it work here.