One Thing at a Time

I am often overwhelmed at the sheer volume of information that is available for us to take in on a daily basis, particularly via the Internet. Sometimes I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed of links, shared articles, blogs, and videos and I wonder how anyone ever effectively communicates anything anymore. As soon as the information appears in front of us, it’s gone and something else takes its place. We are inundated at every turn with 12 steps for this and a remedy for that and a video that promises you’ve never seen anything like this before. There is a BuzzFeed list for every imaginable scenario under the sun like “27 Things Zombies and Puppies Have in Common” or “41 Things You Never Knew About Ponytails” or perhaps you’ve always wanted to see what men in Disney cartoons would look like without beards. That’s a real one, by the way.

Everything has to be extreme to grab our attention because so many things are competing. So usually the title will be something like: “Blind Kitten Rescues Boy From Frozen Lake…But You Won’t Believe What Happens Next…” I bet I will believe it. Other examples of gross exaggeration in titling include any use of the following phrases:

“This will leave you speechless.” (If you mean that I’ll never admit to another person I actually took the time to watch that video, then you’re right.)

“This will be the most inspiring thing you see all day.” (That one was actually in reference to a video about a husky puppy learning to howl. I bet it won’t be the  most inspiring thing I see all day. At least I hope not.)

“This will bring you to tears.” (Nope. Ok, unless it’s an Olympics commercial. Then, maybe.)

The real problem though is that we see hundreds or maybe thousands of these messages every single day. Each one is competing for our attention. Each one promises better, more interesting, more applicable information than the one before. And we read the article or watch the video and then we move on to the next and the next. How much do we soak in? How much do we really digest? What sticks? (Here’s a great piece from Seth Godin on this: Trapped by tl;dr)

This is why there is and will always be immeasurable value in reading an actual book. A book takes time. Online, we read a 750 word article about the latest, juiciest topic of conversation and then immediately click another link to see pictures of cats wearing bow ties. Our brains can only do that so many times before turning to mush (this is clearly based on hard scientific data).

But a book has a singular focus. An overarching message. It takes the reader on a journey from point A to point B. It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or non-fiction. The significance of the book is the investment of time the reader must make. A book moves the reader along a path of discovery. You have to make a commitment to read a book; you must carve time out of your busy schedule. You must choose to concentrate on one topic, one story for an extended amount of time. This is not how the majority of things in our culture today operate. We like fast. We like immediate results. We like instant gratification. Books can provide none of these things. They take time. Maybe hours, maybe days, maybe weeks. Or in the case of some very excellent fiction series, they could take years.

Instead of 750 words on a topic, you get 60,000. You get to sit with the words, soak them in, highlight them. Put them on the shelf and then reread them later. You’re not distracted by whatever else is popping up in your newsfeed. You get to slow down and think about this one thing. Love. Marriage. Redemption. The faithfulness of God. The pain of loss. Mystery. The Civil War. Hobbits. Elves. You name it.

Try it. Find a good book. (I can recommend a few.) Find a quiet space. Make some time. Turn off the noise. Discover something slowly. One thing at a time.

Note: I completely see and understand the irony of blogging about the overabundance of information on the Internet and essentially adding to the noise. To that I offer the age old wisdom of “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” In other words, don’t throw your Internet service provider out the window. Just pick up a book every now and then and enjoy a change of pace.

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