Too Much Information
“Daddy, who was the 10th President of the United States?”
“To be honest with you, I don’t know”
“Sure you do. Just ask your phone.”
This was a recent conversation I had with my son, and for some reason the oddity of our age landed on me with unusual force. We just take it for granted that we now have access to all information all the time. But are there unintended consequences to this pseudo omniscience? I believe there are, and I’m noticing them more and more in my own life and in the life of those I pastor.
Now before I speak to them, please know that my intention is not to offer another blog post decrying the evils of the Internet while ignoring the irony of conveying my thoughts through the very channels I’m decrying. The Internet is one of the most significant innovations that image bearers of God have ever produced. But like every design of fallen humanity, it is marked by both beauty and brokenness. The Christian calling is not to renounce modern progress but to be wise and humble critics who demonstrate a proper use of progress.
To that end, here are 4 things I think we are losing in the chaos of information.
THE LOSS OF EXPERTISE
Information should never be mistaken for expertise. Expertise comes when we actually have to labor after information, when information is discussed and debated within community, when information is refined over years of practice; information unhinged from these pursuits becomes foolish at best and dangerous at worst. You’ve had a headache for a few days so you go to WebMD where you are given a long list of information about what this could potentially be and when it’s all said and done you are convinced you are dying from a brain tumor. You don’t have a tumor. You have a lot of information without the wisdom of a doctor. Your iPhone doesn’t make you a doctor, a lawyer, a scientist, a theologian, or anything else except a normal person with a lot of information.
THE LOSS OF WONDER
Today I was shown a video of a teenager jumping off a 5 story building into a swimming pool. I watched it, thought it was pretty crazy, and then went on with my day. Think about that. That should be the most amazing thing I will ever witness in my lifetime, but it’s really not that big of a deal to me. Why? Because something more crazy and bizarre will probably come my way within a day. Have you noticed the epidemic of boredom? Have you seen the lifelessness? This is what happens when our amazement spectrum becomes so narrow. When we are inundated with the outlandish, then the normal glories of life become merely ho-hum. Wonder is dying the death of a thousand youtube videos.
THE LOSS OF NARRATIVE
We are loosing ourselves in the endless details of the immediate and forgetting that we exist within an overarching narrative. Our days have just become an onslaught of disconnect events with no rhyme or reason, soon to be forgotten once the newest and more outlandish information comes our way. It orients us within a life of disconnected randomness, each day standing alone as a sequence of breaking news with no predominant purpose. But the randomness is a lie. History is a grand story written by the providence of a glorious Author, and our days are a part of that story. History is going somewhere, and we are called to do our part with the time and space entrusted to us to bring the story closer to its appointed consummation, not lost in malaise of arbitrary information.
THE LOSS OF MYSTERY
Today, nothing can be inscrutable. When the answers to all our questions are available to us at all times, then we don’t know what to do with an unanswerable question. As a man who vocationally deals with mystery, I have noticed people are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with that most humble and submissive of answers, “I don’t know.” What do you mean you don’t know why this is happening to me; what do you mean you don’t know why my prayers are unanswered; what do you mean you don’t know why God allows evil and suffering; as if we are now entitled to omniscience. We arrogantly reject whatever we cannot answer, but the problem is that God and His ways are utterly incomprehensible. At some point we must shut our mouths, walk by faith not by sight, and let God be God. Google is making that far more difficult
The loss of expertise, wonder, narrative, and mystery—I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a world without these things
What to do? Besides the obvious accountability measures that we need to have in our lives to make sure we are not numbing out our days in a deluge of information, I have one easy suggestion that will naturally guard against these consequences… Read books. Not blog posts, not buzzfeed, not tweets, books.
Tim Keller was recently asked what advice he would give for running a student ministry in our day? His answer: Get them reading. I think that’s brilliant. What can we do to help a generation that can ask their phones any question? Get them reading books. Books obviously contain information, but books are different. The information isn’t cheap; it’s sacred. Books cultivate what instant information seems to compromise, things like expertise, wonder, narrative, and mystery.
Who was the 10th president of the United States? I don’t know son, let’s find out.
Siri, where’s the nearest library?