Information Overload

Information and more information! Not only is it readily available, but we are bombarded with it, via billboards, newspapers, magazines, television, radio, and, in the last fifteen or twenty years, the widespread use of the Internet and cell phones. More recently, the Internet has spawned Facebook, a forum whereby we can stay in touch with countless people, viewing almost infinite amounts of both written and pictorial information. There are now university courses where students study “IT” — information technology, which is the science of collecting and disseminating information.
The Merits
All of this can be a real “plus.” The Internet has made it easy to communicate very quickly, especially with remote parts of the world, where postal mail is at least very slow, and sometimes almost impossible. Cell phone technology has likewise made good telephone service available to many areas of the world at a very reasonable price, as the expense of installing landlines is removed. Anyone with Internet service can retrieve information on almost any subject within seconds, instead of their having to conduct prolonged research at a library. What a tremendous advantage to anyone writing papers or doing research!
Such technology has had its merits in spiritual things, too. It has enabled unbelievers to look at the truth of the gospel in the privacy of their own homes, in countries where having Christian literature or attending a Christian meeting might bring severe reprisals. Also, it has enabled believers to access ministry that might otherwise be out of their reach, through Christian websites that can make it available to anyone with a computer. As with many other entities that man has invented, God can and does use information technology for blessing.
The Downside
However, there is a downside to this mountain of information. As someone has said, data is like food. It is best served up in reasonable, useful portions, rather than our ingesting so much at one time that we choke on it. Today, many of us process as much information in a week as the average nineteenth-century person did in a lifetime. It has been clearly recognized that too much information takes its toll on us, physically and mentally, and a researcher with the International Stress Management Association has coined the term “Information Fatigue Syndrome.” This syndrome is characterized by higher blood pressure, weakened vision, poor memory, a shortened attention span and diminished efficiency. Also, and perhaps equally important, victims of “information overload” often find themselves confused, anxious and unable to make rational decisions. So much information, often with conflicting viewpoints, results in “paralysis by analysis.” It seems that the human brain, when clogged with too much information, simply shuts down. The result is often stupid mistakes and bad decisions, because of mental exhaustion.
The Impact
For the believer, this impacts not only his health and ability to carry out his secular work, but also his spiritual life. If our minds are congested with all kinds of information that clamors for our attention, it will be difficult for us to focus on reading the Word of God, prayer, and even Christian fellowship. The constant barrage of information that besets our minds will impair our concentration, our memory and our ability to do what is really important. Evidently the Lord foresaw this danger, for even back in Daniel’s time the Spirit of God prophesied that, at the time of the end, “many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Dan. 12:44But 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. (Daniel 12:4)). Likewise, the Lord Jesus warned His disciples, and ultimately us too, about “the cares of this life, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in” which would tend to choke the word, so that it would be unfruitful (Mark 4:1919And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. (Mark 4:19)).
The Answer
What is the answer? It seems that, as with food and other things in our life, so also with information: We must decide what is important. We must filter things that come to us, discarding what is of questionable value, while allowing that which is of benefit. While opting for an anachronistic lifestyle that refuses modern inventions is not the answer, yet we may have to “de-complicate” our lives in order to have what will endure for eternity. As another secular writer has observed, in order to do anything well in life, we will have to forego many other things that we might otherwise have done. In his epistles, Paul often refers to “that day” or “the day of Christ,” and everything in his life was governed by how it would appear then. When Christ places His estimate on how we have used our time, energy and resources, will our work stand the test and be rewarded, or will it be burned up? (See 1 Corinthians 3:11-17.)
It is necessary for us to work and live in this world, to support ourselves and those dependent on us, and to have the resources to help others, as opportunity arises. Whatever we do, we are to “do it heartily, as to the Lord,” for we “serve the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23-2423And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; 24Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23‑24)). God promises a reward for this. However, there is much that we can let go as having no eternal benefit and often little or no benefit even in this life. Even worldly authorities are recognizing the miniscule value of most television programs (to say nothing of the defilement for the believer!), the very limited importance of much of the material in magazines, and the colossal waste of time involved in “surfing the net.” Even telephone calls may degenerate into relatively useless and time-wasting conversations.
Knowing Christ
On the other hand, “He that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (1 John 2:1717And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up. (John 2:17)). There is much to be learned in this world and much to be done that will abide for all eternity. If we asked ourselves, whenever we are tempted to do something, “How will this look at the judgment seat of Christ?” we would use our time much more effectively as believers. More than this, unlike information in the natural realm, learning more of Christ will never put our minds on overload. It is true that simply acquiring information about the Word of God and memorizing facts for their own sake will not feed our souls. But read properly, the Word of God connects us with the person of Christ and draws out our affections to Him. In this way our hearts are expanded, and instead of our minds being choked with information, we come to know more of Him who loved us and gave Himself for us. It is true that we acquire information that can be passed on to others, but because we have new life in Christ and are indwelt with the Holy Spirit, we have the enjoyment of Christ in our hearts, and not simply a body of information. The Spirit of God makes the truth good to our souls and enables us to put it into practice. Thus we not only become less anxious and make better decisions, but we become more like Christ.
A brother, recently taken home to be with the Lord, once compared the Word of God to a forest. If we find that we get lost in the forest, we should frequent it more and thus become more familiar with it. So it is with Scripture; the more we get into it, the more it will be made good to us. Learning more of Christ will never make our minds “shut down,” for our affections are involved.
Prioritizing Time
We must make one final comment, however. We do not want to suggest that an active mind or curiosity about natural things or even about man’s inventions is wrong. Some of the world’s greatest inventions have been made by believers. Often, it is those believers who are interested in many different things who also have the most interest in the Word of God. But they filter what they explore and prioritize their time in order to use information wisely. Likewise, the capacity to process information varies. What one person can easily use to advantage might well overwhelm another. Christians need wisdom from the Lord in these last days, in order to “use the world, as not disposing of it as their own; for the fashion of this world passes” (1 Cor. 7:31 JND). In summary, the answer to the problem of information overload is to live in view of eternity and to be guided by the Spirit of God as to what and how much information we allow into our minds.
W. J. Prost