An Orthodox Life Staff article

How should an Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian respond to the over­abun­dance of infor­ma­tion which bom­bards us on a minute-by-minute basis — through our com­put­ers, tele­vi­sions, and espe­cial­ly our phones? While such sen­so­ry over­load is cer­tain­ly worse than ever before, we must real­ize that the strug­gle to attain true knowl­edge and wis­dom is noth­ing new.

This arti­cle first appeared in Ortho­dox Life Vol. 67.1. It will be repub­lished online in sev­er­al parts. 

Introduction


Accord­ing to the Amer­i­can Col­lege Health Asso­ci­a­tion (ACHA) the sui­cide rate among young adults, ages 15–24, has tripled since the 1950s. Sui­cide is cur­rent­ly the sec­ond most com­mon cause of death among col­lege stu­dents. The sta­tis­tics among oth­er age groups in West­ern coun­tries are not bet­ter. Fur­ther, the socio-eco­nom­ic back­ground of one who takes his life does not seem to mat­ter. Very often the per­son tak­ing his own life seems to have every­thing nec­es­sary for a com­fort­able exis­tence: finances, per­son­al achieve­ments, for­tune… More often than not, the per­son, by all accounts, has no men­tal ill­ness. Nat­u­ral­ly the ques­tion aris­es: what would force an indi­vid­ual to take his own life? What­ev­er the rea­son, it is clear that in our soci­ety today, sui­cide, pri­mar­i­ly among teenagers, is reach­ing epi­dem­ic pro­por­tions. Why?


On the sur­face it may seem that there is a mul­ti­tude of com­pli­cat­ed rea­sons for this. Yet, in what now is def­i­nite­ly a “post Chris­t­ian era,” if we hon­est­ly ana­lyze the sit­u­a­tion we will see that the root cause is basi­cal­ly always the same. Sim­ply speak­ing, we were all cre­at­ed by God to live in full com­mu­nion with our Cre­ator and share in His Divine Glo­ry. When God is tak­en out of our lives, a spir­i­tu­al vac­u­um is formed. We attempt to fill this vac­u­um by var­i­ous dis­trac­tions, but no mat­ter how hard we try, noth­ing can tru­ly sat­is­fy our long­ing. If we do not find our way back to God (and in Ortho­dox ter­mi­nol­o­gy we call this process repen­tance), despair and despon­den­cy set in, which often lead to sui­cide. In oth­er words, when one is spir­i­tu­al­ly dead, it seems only log­i­cal to attain the same state phys­i­cal­ly.


We are all famil­iar with the ways con­tem­po­rary man attempts to fill the spir­i­tu­al empti­ness that reigns in his heart as a result of his with­draw­al from God. Some turn to alco­hol, some to drugs, oth­ers to an obses­sion with phys­i­cal plea­sures and debauch­ery; still oth­ers become pre­oc­cu­pied with the pur­suit of mate­r­i­al goods. It is said that the aver­age Amer­i­can “goes shop­ping at the mall or on line” to raise his spir­its. Many deal with their depres­sion by over­load­ing them­selves with work, becom­ing so called “worka­holics.” All of these are things that peo­ple do to dead­en that emp­ty feel­ing that gnaws from with­in, that feel­ing that per­haps they do not even real­ize is a long­ing to be with God—God Who cre­at­ed them, loves them, yet about Whom they know very lit­tle, if any­thing.


In the past two decades a new dis­trac­tion has appeared, a new method of dead­en­ing one’s spir­i­tu­al fac­ul­ties. This phe­nom­e­non is fea­si­bly the most dan­ger­ous to come along, because on the sur­face it seems inno­cent, and even healthy at first, and has achieved such uni­ver­sal accep­tance. This phe­nom­e­non is the obses­sive pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the acqui­si­tion of knowl­edge and infor­ma­tion. Let us call this phe­nom­e­non “Infor­ma­tion­al Sen­so­ry Over­load.”

Informational Sensory Overload


To illus­trate what we mean by Infor­ma­tion­al Sen­so­ry Over­load let us look at a hypo­thet­i­cal, typ­i­cal day in the life of the aver­age Joe Smith of our day:


Joe wakes up in the morn­ing to the sound of his alarm clock which is pre-set to an all-news radio sta­tion. Even before he is ful­ly awake, he is bom­bard­ed with infor­ma­tion, some use­ful but most­ly use­less. When he final­ly gets him­self out of bed and into the kitchen for break­fast, his atten­tion is split between his com­put­er tablet and the small tele­vi­sion in the cor­ner of the kitchen. He checks for any emails that may have come in dur­ing the night as well as the var­i­ous “social media apps” so as to keep up with the exploits of his friends. His atten­tion may be even more frag­ment­ed if he has a remote con­trol device and is able to “surf” between morn­ing pro­grams on the tele­vi­sion. 


When he fin­ish­es his morn­ing prepa­ra­tions, he gets in his car, where along with the igni­tion, the radio is acti­vat­ed. He can lis­ten to the morn­ing news reports or be soothed by the pound­ing music of his choice. If he is any­where but on the low­est rungs of the social lad­der, he will have a smart­phone, through which he can join the argu­ments on the radio talk show, get the lat­est stock quotes, or return phone calls which have accu­mu­lat­ed on his voice mail list – all while going near­ly 70 miles per hour down the high­way on the way to work. Once at work, the infor­ma­tion influx does not cease. Besides the infor­ma­tion need­ed to actu­al­ly do his work, there is the office radio that is con­stant­ly on in the back­ground play­ing so called “Muzak.” At cof­fee break, Joe is free to browse the Net dur­ing brief con­ver­sa­tions with co-work­ers. Dur­ing lunch hour, Joe has tak­en to jog­ging in a near-by park. This is done again with the accom­pa­ni­ment of his smart­phone. He either lis­tens to music, some pod­cast lec­ture, or makes phone calls. He is obliv­i­ous to the chirp­ing of the birds in the park, the ear­phones block out all nat­ur­al sounds. After anoth­er half day at work and a ride home lis­ten­ing to the radio Joe is back home. He sits in his car in the garage until the in-depth news sto­ry on the pub­lic radio sta­tion runs its course.