We live in an age of information. If you ever found yourself nursing a headache after a long, overly-stimulated day, or feeling unable to make a simple decision in the middle of a thousand sources of input, you may be suffering from an overload of information that, without proactively filtering it ourselves, naturally crowds our lives through our many screens and media sources.
The term, information overload, was first used in Bertram Gross' 1964 book, The Managing of Organizations, where he defines it as follows: “Information overload occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity. Decision makers have fairly limited cognitive processing capacity. Consequently, when information overload occurs, it is likely that a reduction in decision quality will occur.”
The inability to make proper decisions is just one of the side effects of information overload. When it comes to receiving and applying knowledge for spiritual growth, an overload can lead to a sense of congestion and distraction, especially in the areas where truth needs time and space to sink in and dig deep roots. Sometimes we can’t always control what is being presented to us, whether through T.V. commercials, too many podcast episodes, your Facebook feed, or radio hosts, it’s wise to set some checks and balances for the type and amount of information we take in.
The Internet scholar Clay Shirky puts it well: "There's no such thing as information overload. There's only filter failure." If your filters aren’t developed and being put to use, there will always be too much to attend to, and never enough time.
Here are 8 simple ways to filter the information overload we face in our daily spiritual walk.
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1. Check your source's credibility.
A primary and very important step when dealing with information is to check for the credibility of the source. John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” If we are to study and understand God’s word better and in the right light, we need to come back to the Word every time and check for the truth.
We should stick to credible and balanced news sources, and watch out for false doctrines and cross-verify what we hear with what is said in the Scriptures. This can happen only if we have a daily discipline of searching the word of God. The Berean Christians were ready to receive the Word, but they cultivated a daily habit of searching the Scriptures to check whether what they heard was in fact true.
These Berean believers were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so (Acts 17:11).
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2. Allow room for meditation and self reflection.
In the race to read the latest books, buy the newest Bible translations or listen to the latest podcasts of your favorite preacher, don’t neglect your one-on-one time with God. None of the above are bad in themselves. But if we’re repeatedly outsourcing our Bible study to others and consuming what they’ve labored, we’re losing our very precious quiet time with our Lord.
Scripture calls out the importance of meditating day and night, time and time again (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 119:97; Psalm 1:2). God is looking out for our alone time with Him, He is pleased by it and recognizes it.
“May my meditation be sweet to Him; I will be glad in the Lord.” (Psalm 104:34)
So if information overload strikes, a helpful question would be to ponder whether you have spent some alone time with the Lord today.
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3. Consume less information.
Sometimes the best way to handle information overload is to take in no information at all. Allow me to explain. When working your way through a passage or topic in your personal Bible study, instead of jumping to a commentary or doing an online search, allow some time to ponder and mull over the words.
Quite often you would stumble on a very invigorating thought or recollect another dear and near passage from the Scripture to compare with what you’ve been reading, all on your own. Skip this part and you’ll risk losing the wonder of discovering the truth for yourselves.
“My mouth shall speak wisdom, And the meditation of my heart shall give understanding.” (Psalm 49:3)
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4. Create an information queue and tackle it mindfully.
Another very practical filter in dealing with information overload is to make lists. Say you’ve subscribed to a few Christian blogs, listen to a handful of podcasts, enjoy sermons from your favorite preachers. Throughout the week, tuck them away in a queue such as web browser bookmarks or your inbox. Saturday morning or any convenient window of time during the week, go through that list and consume them mindfully.
This will not only allow you to get to all your favorite blogs or sermons, but will also provide you an opportunity to pause and savor them. It will provide you room to let them sink in. If you’re consuming them haphazardly, as and when they arrive, it’s not going to settle in the recesses of your heart. And if it doesn’t, then it’s not worth your time.
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5. Consume what is essential in your season of life.
A great way to limit your overload of information is to assess whether it pertains to the season of your life. This is a quick and easy filter. For example, if you are expecting your first child, now would be a great time to read up on godly parenting and praying for your new arrival. If you’re getting married, then reading, learning, and searching the Scriptures about how to stay committed in your relationship and pray for your spouse would be essential.
“To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
Saturating yourself with a topic like this can strengthen your relationship with God and help you be prepared for life’s changing seasons and the challenges that come along with it. But be cautious to pass even this type of content through the other filters to ensure you’re not burdened by information overload.
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6. Discard negative and unworthy information.
Periodically pause for introspection if you need to eliminate certain channels of information in your life that are not profitable anymore. Literally and virtually unsubscribe from negative media, things that drain your mental energy, toxic relationships and the like.
“Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Colossians 3:2)
Negative and unworthy information will crowd your mind and keep you from being of good service to the Lord. Filter them out, so you have more time and energy to let worthy and profitable things in.
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7. Steer clear of Filter Bubbles.
When you’re knee deep in information overload, it’s quite possible that you’re in a filter bubble as well.
According to Wikipedia, a filter bubble “is a state of intellectual isolation that allegedly can result from personalized searches when a website algorithm selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information about the user, such as location, past click-behavior and search history. As a result, users become separated from information that disagrees with their viewpoints.”
A filter bubble can be a dangerous place to be in as you can become virtually shut off from different perspectives and develop a very comfortable yet narrow point of view. There are several ways to steer clear of filter bubbles, but the most profitable one would be to stop consuming information for the sake of entertainment and rather focus on consuming information for the purposes of education.
What this means on a practical level is to stop scrolling through social media for the sheer purpose of click, like, and share. Instead, identify the avenues that would educate you by applying the earlier mentioned filters and then focus on learning from them.
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8. Resolve to do something with the information.
There is no point in endless consumption if we are not planning to use it in our lives. One question you can ask before you click on a link, or sign up for a newsletter, or follow a website on social media is, “What will I do with that information?”
Don’t commit until you have proposed a plan for yourself to consume and apply that information methodically in your life. For example, sign up for a 30-day prayer challenge for your teenager and then mark your calendar and carve out some time for prayer when those emails arrive at your inbox each morning. This strategy is not only purposeful, but also powerful.
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Your mind has limits — fill it with what is good.
We live in a day and age where information is literally everywhere. Hardly a minute goes by without a fresh load of information. Daniel 12:4 says, “Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” With readily available information comes an increasing responsibility to process it efficiently and use it purposefully.
The information era can be a good thing if handled with intentionality. I hope these filters will enable you to make informed decisions on letting certain data in and out of your lives.
“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
Alice William is a wife and programmer with a passion for writing. She started the blog, Walking in the Word, by journaling her Bible Studies. Her desire is to encourage other women in their walk with God with words that He has used to strengthen her own walk with Him. Her recent eBook An Ode to the Word is a collection of 31 poems inspired by the word of God referenced in God’s word. Each poem is drawn from the verse that talks about the word of God, sparking your curiosity and inviting you to a deeper experience with God's word. You can connect with Alice on Instagram and Pinterest.
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Originally published Monday, 24 June 2019.