Using Discernment to Handle Information Overload
I grew up before the Internet, smart phones, and social media. Sometimes I feel nostalgic for the simple days before all these new technologies but in reality I am thankful for the many ways these advances in technology have made my life and work easier. One outcome of the “Age of Information” is the huge amount of information we encounter every day. We are really living in the “Age of Information Overload!”
Consider what happens in an average DAY worldwide:
- 1.9 billion people use Facebook
- 4.75 billion Facebook posts are made
- 500 million tweets are posted on Twitter
- 95 million photos are posted on Instagram
- The average person spends 2 hours and 24 minutes on social media
- 306 billion emails are sent
- Average American checks their phone 96 times
- 18.7 billion text messages are sent worldwide
- Average American spends 5 hours 24 minutes on their phone
- 6 million blog posts are published
- Average person reads 10 blog posts
- 24.3 million Americas received a newspaper
- 3.3 billion Google searches
- 5 billion YouTube videos are viewed
We are inundated by a staggering amount of information each day. Some of this information is just for fun, like cat memes on social media. But many times we are looking for information to help us make decisions and understand the world around us. The real challenge then is how do we find trustworthy information when we can readily find contradictory facts and opinions?
From knowing which foods are healthy or not, to who to trust about medical advice, to how to think about market volatility, having wisdom to evaluate differing information is something we can all get better at. The following are a few thoughts and suggestions to help you use discernment in your media consumption.
Be committed to the truth
Truth is central to the Christian worldview and God’s character – the Holy Spirit is even called the Spirit of Truth (ex. 1 John 4:6). The Bible exhorts Believers to believe, speak, teach, and love the truth.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 offers this warning,
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
We are quick to recognize this warning in others but are we immune from this temptation? Truth is objective and conforms to reality and what is revealed in the Bible. Let us be a people marked by our commitment to truth.
What does the Bible say?
The Bible – God’s Word – is our ultimate source of revealed truth and should be our primary guide for discernment (2 Timothy 3:16–17). The Bible does not speak to every single situation we encounter so we can apply general Biblical principles to our unique situations (such as the Proverbs) and also rely on truth that God has revealed through creation (Romans 1).
Pray for discernment
The Bible promised that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth (John 16:13). We should pray that God would give us wisdom to discern the truth.
Read your Bible more
Be honest: do you spend more time reading the news or reading your Bible? This is an area I need improvement! The amount and type of information we consume shapes our perceptions and feelings about life. I need God’s word to be shaping my thoughts more than other sources of information.
Sites are actively trying to attract you
News sites, companies, YouTubers, bloggers — they all want your time. They are going to produce content that they think will bring the most visitors to their site. You’ve heard of “click bait” right? The desire for website traffic shapes the subject matter of the site and how it is presented. You are the consumer. But remember that you are also a product! Many sites sell advertising and are selling information about you to other companies. This fact should give you pause and invite you to reflect on the underlying motivations of the site and what they choose to post.
Websites decide what they want you to know
Related to the previous point is the fact that ALL websites, newspapers, and TV news stations make editorial or content decisions. They all choose which information to present and how to discuss it. There are no neutral sites.
Try to understand other viewpoints
Because every site is making specific editorial choices, it is important to read widely and consider other viewpoints. No, not all viewpoints are equally true or helpful. We need to measure against God’s standard of truth. But reading other viewpoints helps us to avoid the warning in 2 Timothy 4:3-4. Having helpful dialog with those around us means getting out of the echo chamber and trying to understand the way others think. Understanding others’ points of view will help us communicate our own views with gentleness and respect.
Consider the source
Not all sources of information are equally reliable. The professional standards of publishers and major news sites like the Wall Street Journal (even the New York Times!) are higher than platforms like YouTube where anyone can post anything they want. If you’re wrestling with some information, consider where it comes from. Is it from a news source that lists it’s references and data to support their argument and goes through an editorial review process or does the source make claims without backing them up with verifiable references?
Read and understand before you share
Sharing is not always caring! Surveys show that only 60% of users who repost an article have actually read it. Before you share or repost an article or blog on social media, make sure you read it and understand what it says. You may find that the headline of the article that initially attracted you is not what the article is about (remember: click bait!)
Read the news instead of watching it
In comparing print versus video news, print articles contain more information, references, and data on a news story than a TV spot on the same story. If your only information source is one TV news station, you are limiting your understanding of the issues. Add other sources of information, particularly printed news which contains more information.
Consume less news
I know personally that when I spend too much time reading the news I am more stressed. Bad news and crises attract more readers and viewers, that’s why it feels like bad news all the time. The more time I spend reading the news, the more I dwell on negative issues. When I intentionally seek out good news or just get out and spend time with family and friends, my outlook on life is so much better.
In Philippians 4:8, Paul encourages the Philippians (and us) to think about good things,
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
In the Age of Information Overload, it can be hard to practice discernment in how we access information and what we take in. This is an area I need to improve in and I think many of you feel the struggle as well. Let’s keep our eyes fixed on Christ and be people committed to truth. May the Lord give us wisdom!