One piece of Christian obscurity is living an inconspicuous life and the choices we make every day. We choose how we obscure ourselves from the world, and we choose how we obscure the world from ourselves. In other words, we choose how much information about ourselves we put into the world, and we choose how much information about the world we let into our lives.
Limiting the information we let into our lives reminds us that we are not God, protects our souls from overload, and empowers us to focus on what matters most to us.
Limiting Our Information Consumption Reminds Us that We Are Not God
In case you need the reminder: We are not the omniscient Creator of the world. And though he created us in his image, we are not created to be all knowing while on this earth. (Whether or not we will know everything when we meet our Lord face to face after our earthly deaths is not the point of this essay.)
In the Garden of Eden, God forbid Adam and Eve from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but they did anyway. They pursued knowledge outside of their relationship with God. And we also face a constant temptation to pursue knowledge outside our relationship with God. We have 1,000 opportunities in any given week to chase knowledge for the sake of knowledge. When we pursue knowledge and understanding without Holy Spirit weighing in on what we actually need to know, we are essentially saying that we know better than God about what we need. Instead, let’s invite him into the choices we make about the information we consume.
Limiting Our Information Consumption Protects Our Souls from Overload
Let’s paint a quick picture of how much information is available to us in the 21st century.
- YouTube users upload 500 hours of video every minute. (Source)
- A zetabyte is about one trillion gigabytes, and as of 2020, the internet surpassed 40 zetabytes. (Source)
- Back in 2016, The Atlantic analyzed how many articles The New York Times publish on their website each day: roughly 150 articles a day plus about 15 multimedia pieces. For one newspaper, that’s about 54,750 articles and about 5,475 multimedia pieces per year. (Source)
In summary, there’s too much information produced in any given hour (minute, even?) for us to consume and process and put to use. And yet, we often find ourselves swept up in compulsive information consumption. Let’s give that a name: info binging. I see this most in myself when I mindlessly scroll a social media feed for something new to entertain me. I also find myself swept up in info binging when I am desperately trying to make sense of something. For instance, binge reading an unfolding news story before the dust has settled on it and the facts are becoming clear. Or binge listening to podcast episodes to figure out how I am supposed to think about the latest hot topic issue.
When I let myself info binge, I start to get lost in the opinions others are throwing at me, I can’t keep up with all the information, and I certainly can’t step out of the muck to think objectively. Asking God for his input on the matter du jour? Not happening. The longer I let myself info binge, the more my soul suffers. Depression, anxiety, and hopelessness set in because I’m not letting Holy Spirit guide me in filtering and processing the information I actually need. What would be better is to put my phone down, go outside for sunshine, fresh air, and grounding, and ask the Lord to lead me in this area. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to how info binging in your life—and others’ lives—is damaging their souls.
The 1850 Filter
This is where my very practical tool that I call the 1850 Filter comes in really handy. How does it work? I simply ask myself, “How much information would I have about (current info binging topic) in 1850?” The answer is usually, “Not very much.”
In 1850, the telegraph and mail were more or less the only available means of communication. And both were expensive to employ. So on a macro news level (world and national news), headlines and the most essential details came across telegraph lines to local newspapers, where journalists wrote an article with details that were fabricated by their imaginations. And on a micro news level (friends and family news), one was at the mercy of whatever a friend or family member bothered to write to you in a letter. (Source and another source.)
There were no notifications popping up on our phones with a news bite. There was no breaking news on the radio. Talking heads were not analyzing a breaking story before the dust had settled. Twitter was not providing play-by-play commentary on anything. And our family and friends were not texting us about the latest hometown Death, Disease, & Destruction report. (But there was dysentery, so there’s that.)
By employing the 1850 Filter, we…
- Choose the trusted news sources from which we get our news
- Slow down the rate at which we receive information
- Invite Holy Spirit to lead us in discerning what matters most about this information
Limiting Our Information Consumption Empowers Us to Focus on What Matters Most to Us
We get to decide what is most important to us as we engage with macro- and micro-level news cycles. Only you can sort out what matters most about the news cycles in your life. I’ve sorted out a few things for myself, and maybe you’ll find them helpful:
- For most news stories, the headlines, the essential facts, and a quick explanation of why I should care is enough for me. To get this information, I listen to The Newsworthy podcast most weekdays. And I’m subscribed to The Pour Over newsletter for a quick Christian perspective on the headlines.
- Neutrality in the journalism I consume is also important to me. I want facts and not opinion. And I want limited bias that is as close to the middle of left/right partisan politics as possible. No news outlet is perfect, but the Media Bias Chart from Ad Fontes Media is helpful for evaluating my news sources.
- I love hearing perspectives and analysis on the news (after the dust has settled) from Christians who are smarter than me and who challenge me to look at and think about the news from an angle not my own. I listen to The Holy Post (the first half of each episode) every week for these perspectives.
- I also love deep dives, thoughtful analysis, and current research on super-macro issues. This long-form content often comes in books, and the authors are often interviewed on podcasts I listen to (the second half of each Holy Post episode). While I’d love to read every book by every author on every podcast I listen to (reader problems, am I right?), I’ve given myself permission to just enjoy what I get out of a podcast interview. If the book keeps surfacing elsewhere, maybe I’ll pick it up, read it, and do my own deep dive into that topic.
- Micro news, especially of the Death, Disease, & Destruction variety, is the trickiest for me to navigate. All too often, when I get news like this, whether on social media, in a text message, or elsewhere, I shut myself down to that news because it’s so personal. To really engage and be present with this type of news requires a lot from me. I could tell myself, “I can’t care about everything or everyone.” But I don’t want to be flippant about these things that matter to others. I want to be full of compassion and empathy for others as Holy Spirit leads me. Asking him how to engage with this news and how to respond is critical.
- Intercessory prayer also matters to me, especially for those things that matter to those in my personal circle. As I’m asked to pray over specific situations, I often commit to pray as Holy Spirit reminds me to pray about it. Sometimes he uses my social media feeds to do the reminding. Sometimes he uses other means. But I let him take the lead.
The beauty of Christian obscurity—the practice of living an inconspicuous life while also living fully known to God—is that we get to name what matters to us and make choices based on what we’ve named. Those choices add up, and the sum of those choices is reflected in how we live our lives day after day and year after year.
Our news and information consumption is forming us spiritually whether or not we recognize that it is. How we think about knowledge, how we process information, and how we invite Holy Spirit into this part of our lives matter. A round of info binging today may not feel like it makes a difference in our journey of being formed in the image of Christ, but it does. I encourage you to sit with the Lord and invite him to speak into your information consumption today!