I was born in 1958, which means I was raised during a time when information wasn’t as accessible as it is today. Our household had one television with four channels, one radio, and one telephone which we all shared. There was no internet, no personal computers, and no one had a cell phone with the ability to call, text, email, and both take and share photos. We got our news from daily newspapers and nightly newscasts, and we stayed in touch with faraway friends and family mostly through letters, because long-distance phone calls were expensive. By today’s standards, we lived very isolated lives.
These days, we are constantly besieged with information. Thanks to the internet, cable TV and smart phones, we know instantly about every world conflict, the most recent public health scare, the current political scandal, the latest terrorist threat, the newest environmental crisis, and a whole list of other problems guaranteed to cause us nonstop worry and stress. We are besieged with images of starving children, violent battles, flooding or droughts, abused animals and angry politicians, just to name a few.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I respond by trying to tune all of it out and just focusing on my own personal business, almost as if all these issues didn’t exist. It’s not that I believe that they’ll go away if I ignore them, it’s just that I often feel overwhelmed by all the problems and the knowledge that I can’t even begin to understand, much less solve, them all. It’s depressing, and I don’t particularly like being depressed.
But I know that’s not the answer. I want to live my life to the fullest, and I know I can’t do that if I allow myself to withdraw from the world. I don’t want to be uninformed about important issues, because I know that ignorance is not always bliss, and sometimes it’s downright dangerous. Pretending that the problems of the world don’t exist also means that I don’t do my part, however small, to help make things better.
The answer, I think, is making an intentional decision to filter the information I receive, and to make choices about how I react to it. I don’t have to let anyone else determine what I need to know or how I need to think and feel. Technology guarantees that I will always be exposed to more information than I can possibly process, let alone respond to, and that’s okay. But it’s up to me to decide what I want to dwell on, which issues I want to act on, and which issues I don’t.
I know there will still be times when I long for the days of my youth, when information about all the world’s problems tended to be served up in small and manageable packages. But those times are gone, for better or for worse, and I remind myself that I really can handle the information age I now live in. It just a matter of knowing where to draw the line.