Solving the Problem of Information Overload

Information 1

Information Overload

“I feel… thin. Sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. I need a holiday. A very long holiday.” (Bilbo in The Fellowship of the Ring)

Can you relate? While specifics vary from one person to the next, many people, myself included, feel spread thin by the constant flow of information and constant access available every minute of every day. And we largely bring it on ourselves through our unbalanced approach to interacting with technology.

This lack of balance leads to too much information coming too fast with no down time allowing for processing any information in a healthy way. Information overload does to our minds what indiscriminate eating and a sedentary life do to our bodies.

Infobesity

Information overload, known as “infobesity” or “infoxication,” has actually been around since the 1970’s. Over time, information overload leads to “information anxiety,” which distracts and negatively impacts an individual’s ability to be productive.

Even before any of these terms existed, George Miller hypothesized that humans have limited ability to process information and that overload results when these limits are exceeded. Evidence of taxed limits include…

  • Confusion
  • Poor decision making
  • Inability to generate original thoughts
  • Inability to have unique ideas

Nichoas Carr and Eric Schmidt agree with Miller and say that information overload could have an impact on though processes by…

  • Obstructing deep thinking
  • Blocking understanding
  • Impeding formation of memories
  • Making learning more difficult

This condition of “cognitive overload” results in diminished information retaining ability and failure to connect remembrances to experience stored in the long-term memory, leaving thoughts thin and scattered.

Simply put, information overload reduces our ability to think, understand, form memories and learn. It limits our capability for retaining information and accurately remembering experiences.

Finding Balance

To a great extent, we cannot control how much information comes our way nor how much we have to use technology. However, we’re not helpless either. We can find balance and avoid feeling spread thin by overindulgence.

Balance comes through setting information boundaries that mitigate the negative impact the constant flow of information has on a person’s ability to think, reason and remember. It also comes through deliberately capturing  and filtering thoughts.

(Note: The next two posts will look at the idea of capturing & filtering thoughts in relation to technology and information overload, and next Thursday’s post focuses on providing ways to find balance by creating information boundaries.)

Creating balance in the atmosphere of the inner self requires developing ways to regulate and filter the information entering our lives. Doing so helps create a state of  information balance instead of information overload in our lives.

DISCUSSION: What symptoms do you see of information overload in your life?

Addiction, Avoidance, Distraction & Technology

texting 2Electronic Fellowship

In a hallway between the sanctuary and fellowship hall at my church sits a pew where most Sundays a half dozen teens fellowship with their cell phones, Ipods and Kindles. During service, their fellowship continues, and many adults join in the fellowshipping with their Ipads and smart phones too.

This electronic fellowship ceases – sort of – during worship but returns fully at sermon start, continuing until the “stand and pray.” Sure, some may use their devices for Bibles, but I’m pretty sure doing so involves less thumb movement.

I realize the caution needed here regarding law and rules and judging others, so let me turn this on myself. I leave my cell phone at home on Sundays and Wednesdays when I go to church because if I don’t, I’ll fellowship with it instead of fellowshipping face-to-face. No matter how much I say I’ll leave it in my bag, the temptation to check it usually wins out at some point.

And yes, I’m even tempted during the sermon (sorry, Pastor) to check messages. I’m simply better focused on connecting with the body and hearing from God if my handheld device gets alone time at home while I’m at church.

But I can’t help but wonder…

Do so many teens stay on their devices while at church because they don’t want to talk to other people? Or, are they simply that addicted to texting or gaming or whatever they’re doing? Do the adults on their devices during the sermon simply have an addiction to staying connected? Or, are they using them to distract themselves from what they know they need to hear but don’t want to hear because then they’ll have to change?

For my part…

I know it’s addiction since I sometimes just can’t seem to resist the lure. It’s avoidance too, because some days my introverted self finds my cell phone much easier to connect with than the people around me. And while I’m at it, I’ll admit that its also distraction. After all, mindlessly surfing the Internet is a great way to not deal with life and forget about mistakes.

Beyond the Church Walls

Certainly, this is not a church-specific problem since this particular challenge with technology exists abundantly outside the church walls too. And unfortunately, our obsession not only allows for easy avoidance and distraction, but it is also creating some serious social issues with far-reaching impact.

According to Psychology Today, a prolific use of technology causes…text 3

  1. Isolation – We feel socially isolated because we end up substituting or mistaking electronic relationships for physical ones.
  2. Unhealthy substitution – Reading LOL in no way lifts your spirits like hearing a person’s laughter. Likewise, electronic confrontation limits effective resolution since emotions rarely come across as accurately when written as when experienced in person. These types of substitution limit the necessary human contact relationships need to deepen and grow.
  3. Loss of etiquette – Many people say online what they would never say in person. Likewise, electronic communication allows for avoidance of difficult situations simply because ignoring and sidestepping is easier electronically than face-to-face.

These are just some of the challenges presented by over-use of mobile devices, challenges that happen when we choose electronic communication too often over face-to-face connection. And, unfortunately, this causes us to become increasingly uncomfortable experiencing and expressing true emotion but at the same time craving it to the point of desperately seeking it out even more and usually in the wrong places.

In closing, consider the following quote by Jonathan Safran Foer in “How Not to Be Alone.

“Technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat… My daily use of technological communication has been shaping me into someone more likely to forget others. The flow of water carves rock, a little bit at a time. And our personhood is carved, too, by the flow of our habits.”

DISCUSSION: Weigh in on how you see addiction, avoidance and distraction with regard to the use of technology. Please offer any solutions and bring in any relevant Scripture application.

How Parents Can Model Balanced Technology Use

1380315_40329376Parenting & Technology

My parenting has never not known technology. In fact, I’m not sure how my parents disciplined or entertained me when I was a kid.

Today, my relationship with my kids cannot escape the influence of technology. Like it or not, technology shapes my kids’ thinking and will forever be a part of how they interact me and with the world.

More and more though, technology also impacts how I think and interact with the world. And I’m discovering that if I don’t deliberately choose how that interaction takes place and especially how much that interaction takes place, it too easily replaces valuable connection with others.

Training a Child

According to the Pew Internet Research Project 75% of all teenagers have a mobile phone, and 58% of all 12-year-olds have one. Of those kids…

    • 90% send/receive texts
    • 50% send 50 or more texts daily
    • 80% use them to take pictures
    • 64% share pictures with others
    • 60% listen to music
    • 46% play games
    • 32% swap videos
    • 23% access social networking sites

But before we are too frustrated with our children’s seemingly constant use of technology and blame it for the disconnect all to apparent in way too many families, consider the following data from the Barna Group

  • Parents are MORE likely than their teens to use their mobile devices regularly.
  • Parents watch just as much TV, movies & use the Internet as their kids daily.
  • 2/3 of parents think technology (cell phones, computers & video games) make family life better.
  • 1/3 of parents say they do not regularly take a break from technology.
  • 49% of parents worry that technology wastes their children’s time.
  • 21% of youth say parents have a double-standard regarding technology use.
  • 17% of youth say their parents bring their work home too much.
  • 39% of parents and 27% of tweens/teens say they’re frustrated that technology makes face-to-face conversations more difficult.

This research tells us that while teens/tweens spend a lot of time on their cell phones parents are equally guilty with regard to their use of technology. This research also illustrates that the Biblical instruction to “train a child in the way that he should go,” (Proverbs 22:6) most certainly now involves technology use not just in our children’s lives but in our own lives as well.

Modeling Technology

How can Christian parents model a balanced use of technology in a culture seemingly obsessed by and revolving around technology? Consider the following suggestions:

  1. 1105898_27026966Make face-to-face communication a priority. Since only about 10% of our communication happens with our words, a lot of communication fails to take place when limited to only words such as through text and email. Make a point to model effective communication in all your relationships, so your kids see you placing consistent value on it.
  2. Set technology boundaries. In a study by Psychology Today of 55 families, 1/3 of parents used mobile devices throughout a family meal, and 40% of parents ignored their children by focusing on their mobile devices leading to kids acting out to get parents’ attention. Start by banning mobile devices & television during meals, and consider creating regular breaks from technology.
  3. Remember that you can’t have rules without relationship. In other words, boundaries on technology or in any other area mean nothing when true relationship doesn’t exist. Get involved in your children’s lives. Instead of spending the entire track meet or baseball game on your phone, enjoy that moment in your child’s life. Instead of complaining about your kids always texting or playing video games, text them and play video games with them. The more consistent you are in developing and maintaining relationship, the less impact outside influences such as technology will have on the depth of those relationships.

For certain, there are a lot more ways we can model a balanced integration of technology into our lives. What are your suggestions?

What Can The Amish Teach Us About Technology?

Amish 2Much of my childhood involved interacting with the Amish. From age 6 to about 13, I spent time playing at one of three Amish neighbors living within a 1/2 mile of my home on a dusty dirt road in SW lower Michigan.

The Amish aren’t perfect. They’ve got family and financial challenges like the rest of us. But there are areas of life they seem to have figured out in a way that the rest of us constantly long for like a cool drink on a hot day. Yet, we act as if these accomplishments are uniquely available only to the Amish.

Simplicity and community stand out most as examples of this truth. While there are probably other reasons for their ability to maintain simple and community-oriented lives, the most obvious – perhaps because of its stark contrast to the surrounding culture – is the Amish approach to technology.

In “Amish Community Not Anti-Technology, Just More Thoughtful,” Jeff Brady explains their approach this way:

“The difference between Amish people and most other Americans is the deliberation that takes place before deciding whether to embrace a new technology. Many Americans assume newer technology is always better, and perhaps even inherently good. ‘The Amish don’t buy that,’ says Donald Kraybill… ‘They’re more cautious – more suspicious – wondering is this going to be helpful or is it going to be detrimental? Is it going to bolster our life together, as a community, or is it going to somehow tear it down?’”

Amish Studies supports Brady’s assessment by saying…

“The Amish do not consider technology evil in itself, but they believe that technology, if left untamed, will undermine worthy traditions and accelerate assimilation into the surrounding society. Mass media technology in particular, they fear, would introduce foreign values into their culture. By bringing greater mobility, cars would pull the community apart, eroding local ties. Horse-and-buggy transportation keeps the community anchored in its local geographical base.”

If we take an honest look around at our culture, we’ll have to admit that they are right. Technology seems to be doing exactly to our culture what they fear it could do to theirs.

Perhaps you’re wondering if it’s really working for them. Are they Amish truly not only able to keep most technology at bay, utilizing only what benefits their traditions and community, and still thrive and grow? Most of us believe we simply could not survive without our smart phones and laptops, so how could they with even less technology than that?

Not only are they keeping technology at bay and surviving without smart phones and laptops and even – gasp – television, but the Amish actually do have a growing and thriving community. Consider the following statistics provided by Amish Studies and combined with those from Conversant Life.

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Certainly, we can’t place all the blame on technology for the large exodus of today’s youth from our churches. However, we also can’t deny that it likely does have an impact, albeit a rather complex and difficult-to-understand one.

Adopting the Amish Approach to Technology

I’m not suggesting anyone become Amish, though I know of someone who did. What I am suggesting involves adapting their proactive approach to technology, which for many likely means no longer absent-mindedly riding technology’s superhighway.

  1. Be deliberate about the technology you choose to use and when you use it.
  2. Don’t assume new technology is always better.
  3. Consider if any given technology helps or hinders your life as a whole.
  4. Ask if a technology will bolster or tear down your relationships.
  5. Make simplicity a priority.

Technology seems virtually impossible to avoid for most people. To a great extent, we actually have little choice about if and how we use it. But as the Amish show us by their lifestyle and thriving church, we don’t have to be slaves to technology. We can choose not to let it define us.

DISCUSSION: What lessons about technology from the Amish can you immediately apply?

Note: I am also guest posting today at Cycleguy’s Spin, telling my “second-chance story” titled Kari’s Second Chance: Learning from Jonah. Stop by if you have a minute, and check out Bill’s other posts too. He shares from a pastor’s heart, and I am always blessed by it!

Two Questions to Help Assess Your Technology Use

QUESTION #1 – Are you an average mobile user?

Average mobile userQUESTION #2 – Is technology your tool, or are you its slave?

Technology tooSlave to technologyDISCUSSION: What else can help us assess our technology use?

Struggle to Victory with Technology

A Love/Hate Relationship1071936_89886661

I’m addicted to technology. I waste time with it, and I’m easily distracted by it. Sometimes, I actually use it to keep from having to acknowledge and interact with others. I hate that it’s so natural for my kids, even part of the way they think and view life and can’t imagine life without it. And I especially hate how it interrupts and prevents face-to-face conversations.

At the same time, technology gives me a place and audience for writing that I would not otherwise have. It allows for friendships, encouragement, knowledge and support that would not otherwise happen because of geography. It provides ease of research and in fact helped me tremendously in my journey to healing.

Then, there’s GPS… as much a necessity as gas in my car. Technology helps my husband and I connect when he travels since his trips allow for little free time even for phone calls. And, technology provides a way to connect with my boys that fits how they think and operate.

Some days I want to quit technology. Usually, though, those are the days it’s not working right or as I think it should work. But then I remember the days of waiting for my dial-up connection and having the phone unavailable while on the Internet, and I realize how far technology has come in such a short period of time.

I truly hate technology when I’m talking to a friend and she stops mid-conversation to answer a text. After the frustration subsides, I realize the problem is my friend’s inability to focus on what’s in front of her more than it is about the technology.

Technology exists as a necessity in my life that I love for so many reasons and that I hate for as many reasons. With that, I am conflicted over how I want technology to live and breathe as I live and breathe.

1126743_41600248Finding Balance with Technology

How we used technology 10 years ago differs greatly from how we use it today. As those developing technology continue showing us what we didn’t know we needed and wanted, how we use technology will continue evolving. The ever-changing nature of technology is a fixed reality.

The ever-changing nature of technology also adds frustration through the impossibility of keeping up with the flow of information as well as with the latest and greatest. With this comes a choice of either continually struggling to keep up or finding balance, something that exists as uniquely as our fingerprints.

My own journey to find balance in my use of technology involves considering…

  • Is technology my tool or am I its slave?
  • Do I always assume new technology is always better?
  • Do I consider that my kids watch and imitate how I use technology?
  • Do I understand the relevance of technology not just in my life but in the future for my kids?
  • Can I find a healthy balance and/or rhythm by controlling my habits?
  • Are there boundaries in place in my life where technology is concerned or is it an uncontrolled addiction?
  • Does technology exist as a distraction and a way to avoid being uncomfortable?
  • What does God think about how we should live with and use technology?

These are the dominate thoughts on my mind as I consider how technology currently exists and how I want it to exist in my life. And these thoughts provide the basis for getting into the details of technology over the next month.

DISCUSSION: What struggles and victories do you have or see with technology?

Virtual Connections

429755_57473506Most of us have some Virtual Influences or at least some aspect of our face-to-face relationships that are virtual. And most of us will admit that while virtual can never replace face-to-face, it is now forever a part of how we operate and think. And I’m thankful for the virtual benefits in my relationships too, benefits reflected in the connections with many individuals I likely would never have met otherwise.

Included in those connections is TC Avey from Wisdom of a Fool. The more TC and I “talk,” the more we find out we have in common in our non-virtual lives. On a deeper, true relationship level, TC challenges me to challenge myself. She did it through her book The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends, and she did it through her invitation to guest post on her site. For this guest post, The Reality of Superheroes, TC encouraged me to get outside of my comfort zone a bit, and I definitely grew by accepting the challenge.

Another connection, Cycleguy Bill Grandi, brings a unique element to my life by sharing his pastor’s heart on an almost daily basis, giving me a much-needed ministry perspective in my non-virtual life. He also challenged me recently by asking me to share my “second chance” story, which I did in the post “God is a God of Second Chances,” on his blog, a story I’m less comfortable sharing face-to-face. (Note: Link to post will be added when available.) Bill is sharing second chance stories, his own and others, over the next few weeks. Be sure to check them out to be reminded of your own second chance stories and to be inspired by the stories of other people.

This month has been a terrific month of sharing my Virtual Influences with you. I hope you also experience the benefit that virtual relationships – a sort of supplement to the crucial nourishment we get in face-to-face relationships – can bring to your life.

DISCUSSION: Take a minute to talk about your own virtual influences if you have not done so already this month.

Photo courtesy of freeimages.

Back to the Basics

For the month of April, Struggle to Victory is focusing on virtual influences by featuring guest posts, by guest posting on other sites, and by highlighting some of the regular visitors to this blog. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged, strengthened & challenged by these people as much as I have on a regular basis, people I am proud to say have an impact on my thinking in ways that matter eternally.

THE PRECIPICE_coverToday’s post is by TC Avey, a Christian devoted to God, family and friends. TC is passionate about encouraging Christians to live lives dedicated to Christ as well as helping them understand the importance of preserving our national freedoms through knowledge and love. She blogs at Wisdom of a Fool. You can also follow her on Twitter. Her book, The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends, is NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon.

Technology is awesome.

It allows us to do a plethora of wonderful things. Yet, it can also become a god.

If we aren’t careful, we can place more trust in gadgets, science, and modern conveniences than we do in the Creator of the World.

Rarely do I think we mean to do this (at least those who profess to be Christian); it just sort of happens…so slowly we don’t even realize it until its roots are deep.

But if one is willing to take a close look in their hearts, they can see this “god” in various ways:

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When an emergency happens, what do you do first? Pray or call for help?

When your feelings are hurt, who do you turn to? God’s comfort or man’s distractions?

When your world is on fire, where is your refuge? The Cross or an object/place?

When you’ve reached the bottom of your strength, how do you go on? In Christ’s name or a doctor’s?

An honest review like this will cause most people to say, “OUCH.” I know it does me.

But it’s this type of scrutiny that is needed if one is to get back to the basics in their relationship with Christ.

Back to the Basics is one of the themes in my book, The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends.

Life is fast paced.

Technology enables man to do more, be more and have more.

It also provides man with vast understanding, almost limitless access to anything a heart could ever desire, and even extends lifespans.

It showers us with possibilities, helps us to connect with others around the globe, and gives us almost instant satisfaction in having our needs fulfilled.

Technology can be a great thing, but it should never be our god.

It should never serve as a substitute for our Healer, Provider, Comforter or Salvation.

Often people have grand intentions, but when technology takes the throne of our time and energy, those intentions go out the window with God.

God is a gentleman. He will not force himself upon the thrones of our lives. However, as Creator and Sustainer of the World, He does speak to us in various ways.

The Bible is full of examples of God speaking to His people through calamities.

One such event is the Tower of Babel.

Man began thinking too highly of himself and God created confusion of speech and helped the people get back to the basis their need for God.

Today, our world is on a tipping point. God is calling out. But can we hear Him over our Bluetooth devices?

The Precipice can help readers identify where they place their trust and evaluate who their God is.

God is a jealous God. He won’t play second fiddle to anyone or anything.

I urge you, get back to the basics. God should be your “all in all.”

Yes, enjoy technology. It’s great. It’s a gift. But don’t let it be your god.

Only the living God can satisfy your soul and your endless quest for “more.”

DISCUSSION: How has technology become a “god” in your own life? What changes can you make today to put God over technology?

NOTE: If you purchase The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends in its first week of publication on Amazon, you will also receive a BONUS PACKAGE if you email your receipt to the author BEFORE APRIL 14TH!

Phone image courtesy of Stock.xchng.

How to… Keep Technology from Consuming You

2-11-13 Abraham LincolnWhat can we learn about instant messaging from Abraham Lincoln?

Even though Abraham Lincoln had no precedent for how to use it, he brilliantly integrated the new electronic communication of the day to help save our country. He did this by using the telegraph system to stay in touch with his generals in the field during the Civil War, and was the first president to use this quick, long-range communication method in this way.

Lincoln seemed almost obsessed with this tool at times, much like we are today with instant messaging, emailing and texting. That’s not to say that he used the telegraph as his only mode of communication, but he certainly grasped the importance of using it to help him in his job as Commander in Chief.

“Lincoln had done more than simply counsel on strategy; he used the telegraph to take command… The president telegraphed direct orders to generals in the field, moving men around as though on a chessboard… The wire became a way for the president to stay informed and assert himself… [The telegraph was] the tool Lincoln used for reinforcing his resolve and making sure that neither distance nor intermediaries diffused his leadership.” (Tom Wheeler, author of Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails)

What does Abraham Lincoln’s use of the telegraph have to do with our prolific use of technology today?2-11-13 Telegraph

Not only does Lincoln’s use of the telegraph reveal another element of his timeless leadership genius, but it also reveals to us how the technology of the day – whatever that might be – can draw a person in and seemingly shut out the rest of the world.

In other words, technology can make us closer and further away at the same time.

“Lincoln hardly left his seat in [the telegraph] office and waited with deep anxiety for each succeeding dispatch… The president consumed the electronically delivered updates… No longer was Lincoln content to sit idly by and await information, he was actively in communication with the front.” (Tom Wheeler, author of Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails)

While we can understand why Lincoln obsessed over these messages during this pivotal time in our nation’s history, we can also understand how doing so likely affected the other areas of his life. The correlation between T-Mail and E-Mail might not be perfect, but it does help to understand that technology always has had and always will have the potential for consuming us.

So how do we keep technology from consuming us?

2-11-13 Email

If we had the time, we could discuss how Lincoln took frequent carriage rides with his wife, how he loved interacting with his son even while working, and how he often corresponded in detail by hand-written letter. Doing so would help us see that while technology at times consumed him, he also knew the importance of face-to-face and more detailed interaction.

With the idea that technology in any form can easily steal our attention from the people we love, let’s look at ways to keep it from consuming us.

  1. Leave it. Don’t take your cell phone or tablet with you to church or out to dinner with friends. Make leaving it a regular habit to help reduce its pacifier hold.
  2. Turn it off. When reading or playing family games, during dinner, and when friends are visiting turn off technology and focus face-to-face. At the very least, turn off the sound.
  3. Avoid it at dinnertime. Make this a daily habit. Don’t let technology consume this important touch point.
  4. Have tech-free family time. Play cards or a board game. Have a family reading time. Exercise together. Make technology off limit for everyone during these times.
  5. Have tech-filled family time. Technology is not evil. In fact, it has tremendous value, especially when used to build relationships. Have a family Wii night or play electronic Scrabble together. Spend time together in technology.
  6. Let technology help you. I’m a huge proponent of keeping a personal calendar and making lists. My tablet is an indispensible tool in these habits that are crucial to my sanity and thus to the function of my family. Not only that, but staying connected as a family, especially with a husband who travels a lot for work, is made a lot easier through technology.

When Lincoln went home, he did not have the telegraph with him since telegraph wires were not yet run to the White House. We don’t have that built-in off switch. We have to choose to use technology rather than let it consume us.

DISCUSSION: How do you keep technology from consuming you?

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