I’m a bit of a news junky. I come by it honestly, being the son of a news junky father. But living in this new era of being always connected to sources of information through the internet increases both my access and addictiveness to news.
There’s a problem with taking in all of this information. The more we take in, the less we do anything about it.
In his seminal book Amusing Ourselves To Death, Neil Postman writes about our Low Information-Action Ratio (or LIAR). The more information we take in, the less we do anything about it, the more we become liars.
In an speech, Postman said, “The tie between information and action has been severed. Information is now a commodity that can be bought and sold, or used as a form of entertainment, or worn like a garment to enhance one’s status. It comes indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, disconnected from usefulness; we are glutted with information, drowning in information, have no control over it, don’t know what to do with it.”
Because we live in a culture of LIARs, we need to do one of two things in order to regain our integrity. We need to reduce drastically the amount of information we consume or we need to increase drastically the amount of action we engage in based on the information we take in. A mix of both would probably be healthy for most of us.
But knowing myself, years ago I concluded that increasing action would be more likely than decreasing my info consumption. But how was I to increase my action so significantly, especially with how far-flung the information I consume is?
I stumbled onto a solution when my friend Jeff asked me to join him for his Lenten fast one year. Since he was leaving the military, he wanted to fast from consuming violence. No violent movies, books, TV shows, etc. So, I agreed.
But then I clicked over to CNN.com and the headlines were filled with violence and I realized that reading those articles would be a breaking of my Lenten fast. So, I didn’t click. For a couple days. Skipping the new Hunger Games movie was easier for me than skipping the news.
But then it occurred to me that I could pray about whatever it was that I read in the news. I didn’t need to be a consumer. I could be an active pray-er.
That got me through Lent. Every violent article I read nudged me to pray for those suffering through the violence. But Lent ended and I went back to my consumerist LIAR ways.
But I’ve become less and less happy with my experience as time has gone by. I’m not content with being a LIAR like the rest of my culture. I want to be spurred to action, not sit with inaction.
In his Confessions, St. Augustine wrote about his love of going to see plays when he was a young man. He loved the rush of emotion — fear, anger, love, joy — that he could indulge in by observing the lives being played out in front of him. But he realized that it made him something of a LIAR in its own way. He was enabled to feel emotions that should have been tied to real relationships and should have inspired him to real actions, but he was able to indulge in them from the comfort of his seat in the theater and never feel the need to act on them.
He was an emotional voyeur.
I see the same thing playing out in our books, movies, and TV shows. And while that voyeurism can be unhealthy, I find that our info consumption is even worse. Where fiction can get me emotionally involved, there is no course of action — it’s not real. But where non-fiction also gets me emotionally involved, there is always a course of action, even if most actions are out of my reach. I can always pray.
I have concluded that if I don’t pray it, I shouldn’t read it.
I may not be able to do anything physically for those suffering under Boko Haram and ISIS, but I can pray for them. I only have one vote to cast in each election, but I can pray for the candidates and the rest of the voters. I won’t ever know my favorite athletes (other than my daughter), but I can pray that fame and fortune doesn’t destroy them.
I don’t need to pray long. But if I am going to continue consuming all of this info, I need to learn how to deal with it and hand it over to the one who deals with all of us. In this way, I don’t drown in an ocean of inaction, but I learn to live in the presence of the one who is King of the nations and Lord of all creation, the one whose eye is on the sparrow and who cares about the details of the lives of each person on this good earth.