An evangelical perspective on information overload

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I was fascinated to come across an evangelical take on the problem of information overload. Becky Sweat’s article in The Good News reads:

information overload can distract us from the most important priority in our lives—our relationship with God. Indeed, a healthy relationship with other people, especially our family and fellow Christians, is an important part of our relationship with God Himself.

OK, not how I’d put it myself: quite apart from being chronically secular in my thinking about the web,  the “especially fellow Christians” runs counter to what I think is one of the most valuable aspects of the Internet, which is the way it enables the inter-group relationships that constitute “bridging” social capital.

But the meta-point comes through loud and clear: don’t let your use of networked technology keep you from focusing on what matters to you — and I would add, whether that’s your relationship with God, your relationships with family and  friends or your relationship with yourself. And I appreciate that this story goes on to offer very specific suggestions about how to keep the Internet from overshadowing your spiritual priorities, including:

  • Take an honest assessment of your priorities. Are you so wrapped up in pursuit of secular knowledge or an online social life that you have no time left to dig deeply into God’s Word? Are you routinely using your PDA or laptop when you are with friends and family? If your priorities are misaligned, be willing to make the necessary changes.
  • Set aside a regular time each week where you and other family members do not use any kind of electronic media technologies, including television. It could be something you do every Sabbath, or perhaps an hour or two every evening.
  • Finally, no matter how busy you get, make time for some Bible study every day. Keeping your mind focused on God’s Word will help you to filter all the information that’s coming at you on a daily basis—and to know what’s important to address and what isn’t!

While none of these specific practices speak to me (it probably doesn’t help that I’m Jewish!) I can imagine that for many evangelicals they could be a very useful call to attention around the way technology interacts with offline (and otherworldly) priorities. As the article usefully reflects:

Remind yourself that it’s okay to not know everything. In fact, it’s impossible to keep up with the pace of the information superhighway. The sooner you accept that, the happier you’ll be. Know what’s worth knowing and what isn’t, and be willing to fall behind on the information that really doesn’t matter.

2 Comments on this site

  1. David Drucker

    Re. the admonitions to avoid using your laptop, PDA or other media while with friends and family, well, that's just plain rudeness (unless everyone else is doing it, and frankly, that's part of the fun – the family that surfs together…)

    Besides, Reading a Book is technology, so her suggestion to set aside time for 'Bible Study' is just to switch to cellulose display of a limited data set rather than LCD screens of a larger one. In a couple of centuries, her descendants will be exhorting people to do their Bible study on LCD screens rather than the more modern direct Data Interface, a la Gibson's Cyberspace.

    As for 'Keeping your mind focused on God’s Word will help you to filter all the information that’s coming at you on a daily basis—and to know what’s important to address and what isn’t' , I can't think of anything more unappealing than submitting to some deity as to what is important or not in my life, but that's just me.

    Frankly, when I think about it, I've always found the Evangelical suspicion (or even outright hatred) of the joy of knowledge to be the most despicable aspect of that sect (like others). Their dismissal of 'book-learnin' is a transparent fear of people catching on, I suspect. Stay ignorant, avoid critical thinking, and we have a better chance of keeping you in the fold. God always trumps Man, so Secular Humanism is a bad thing.

    No thanks, I take the opposite view there, for sure.

  2. David Drucker

    Re. the admonitions to avoid using your laptop, PDA or other media while with friends and family, well, that's just plain rudeness (unless everyone else is doing it, and frankly, that's part of the fun – the family that surfs together…)

    Besides, Reading a Book is technology, so her suggestion to set aside time for 'Bible Study' is just to switch to cellulose display of a limited data set rather than LCD screens of a larger one. In a couple of centuries, her descendants will be exhorting people to do their Bible study on LCD screens rather than the more modern direct Data Interface, a la Gibson's Cyberspace.

    As for 'Keeping your mind focused on God’s Word will help you to filter all the information that’s coming at you on a daily basis—and to know what’s important to address and what isn’t' , I can't think of anything more unappealing than submitting to some deity as to what is important or not in my life, but that's just me.

    Frankly, when I think about it, I've always found the Evangelical suspicion (or even outright hatred) of the joy of knowledge to be the most despicable aspect of that sect (like others). Their dismissal of 'book-learnin' is a transparent fear of people catching on, I suspect. Stay ignorant, avoid critical thinking, and we have a better chance of keeping you in the fold. God always trumps Man, so Secular Humanism is a bad thing.

    No thanks, I take the opposite view there, for sure.

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