My friend David Beck, in his book Luminous, writes:
“The amount of information we consume has skyrocketed. Information overload takes its toll on us. ‘What information consumes is rather obvious,’ says economist Herbert Simon. ‘A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.‘ We think of ourselves as consumers, but in the age of information overload, we have become the consumed.”
I’m a news junkie. Others are gamers. Still others live on Facebook or social media. No matter the specific focal point, the impact is often the same — a poverty of attention. Without realizing it, we slowly sacrifice our time, energy, and attention. What we think we control gradually gets control of us. We, the consumers, become the consumed. The instant-society, the microwave-culture, has lost patience, focus, and depth.
I see this in the University classroom. Many students have severely eroded attention-spans. They dismiss the suggestion, as we all do, by claiming to “multi-task.” I see this in restaurants as couples sitting at a table each stare at their own phone screens, tapping and scrolling intermittently. “A poverty of attention.”
A world of sound-bites, captions, Tweets, video-clips, and pokes has transformed us — robbed us. And it begs the disturbing question: Is the hyper-stimulation of our culture undermining our ability to hear God, to think deeply, or to be fully present to each other?
Gambling grows compulsive to many people, in part because of the chemical stimulation that the brain receives when the unpredictable happens. If the process and outcome of a game is entirely scripted, we would be bored. Something similar happens with email, gaming, social media, and even the news. We check in repeatedly for something new and something unexpected. It functions like a drug, not only distracting us but stimulating us. And the pleasure of the stimulation masks “the poverty of attention” that is developing within us.
Little needs to be written here about the obvious implications of this for our spiritual formation. If spiritual formation is “a long obedience in the same direction,” we cannot hope to be well-formed by short bursts of attention to Christ and His Kingdom.
What would need to change for each of us, today, to overcome this cancerous condition and truly find rest? I suspect that only with such rest can we truly flourish.