To say we live in the information age is an understatement. According to a 2008 report, the average human mind processes 34 gigabytes of information a day (if you allow for eight hours of sleep, that is 2.1 gigabytes per hour). As one social commentator put it, we are exposed to more information in one day than Leonardo DaVinci was exposed to in his lifetime. The internet, television, smartphones, radio and yes, even good-old-fashioned print media are all contributing factors. Now one would think this would make us better, smarter and more creative, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Information in a Consumer Culture
Social media, search engines and the insatiable thirst to be entertained draws us into a consumer mindset when it comes to our information. It’s nothing for us to read a half-dozen articles from our Facebook news-feed in a matter of minutes. Throw in a couple of You-Tube videos and a blog or two and we are feasting on information. However, the danger comes when we do not take time to process that information. We need to ask ourselves the important questions:
- What does this mean?
- How does this affect me?
- Is this a reliable source? (there is a reason Snopes.com exists)
- Is this true?
- How do I apply this information to my life?
Too often we consume without processing. We feast without taking time to exercise our minds. The result is a mind that is lethargic and stagnated in areas of creativity and objective reasoning. In short, when we turn into information gluttons, our thinking and creative processes suffer, just as our bodies do when we feast but fail to exercise.
Junk Food for the Mind
I love Mt. Dew. I love the sugar. I love the caffeine. I love the taste. The problem is, Mt. Dew does not love my body. Its acidity eats away at both tooth enamel and stomach lining. Its high-caloric nature, while it gives a momentary boost of energy, in the long run contributes to the battle with my waistline. Its sugar gives me heartburn. In short, its long-term effects negate its ability to provide immediate gratification.
The same could be said of our minds when we don’t take the time to filter out the “junk” information we are exposed to daily. Let me give some examples of “junk” information:
- News stories with sensationalistic headlines that stir up emotions without ever providing any real information. The recent eruption over Starbuck’s is an excellent example.
- Memes or posters that aim to demean a people group, political party or religious/non-religious worldview. Rather than provide factual information that make us re-think our position, these usually harden one side against another, and no exchange of ideas ever occurs.
- Anything with a cat on it. I don’t care if he’s grumpy or not.
- Same goes for screaming goats. It was funny the first two times, now it’s just annoying.
- Any blog or article written with the intent of tearing down anything or anyone that disagrees with the author while never building up a case for why the author’s point of view is better.
- @Ny $T@Tu$ W®1TT3n L1k3 D1$ (really, you can think of a symbol for any letter but you can’t be bothered to spell?)
- Commercials. Period. Their chief aim is to get you to feel like your life is inadequate without some “product.” Bad information oozes from them.
- Articles that make you ‘click’ for the next page (OK, not really, but it’s one of my biggest pet peeves.)
Too much bad information, while it might be fun, entertaining or amusing can have the long term effect of crippling our minds and eating away at our ability to defend our worldview effectively.
Where Are the Real Artists and the Deep Thinkers?
DaVinci was the epitome of the Renaissance man. He was a painter, sculptor, inventor, botanist, physiologist and philosopher. He had contemporaries that were nearly as impressive. Men like Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello weren’t just inspiration for a cartoon about mutant reptiles, they were great thinkers and creators; they were artists. Fast forward a few hundred years to a time period called the Age of Enlightenment and again you find brilliant minds littering the pages of history. Let’s start with DesCartes, the mathematician turned philosopher who coined the phrase, “I think, therefore I am.” His works inspired men who lived generations later, men like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin whose political ideas left a permanent mark on Western society and whose scientific minds invented things like bifocals and copiers. Even artwork began to transform into more creative expressions, first through impressionism, then through expressionism. Names like Monet, Van Gogh and Gauguin began to make their mark in the art world. Literature also began to emerge as the genre of the novel became more firmly established, other genres started to emerge as well. Poe invented the mystery story and Doyle perfected it. Emily Dickinson began to express the darker side of the human nature while Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker made monsters out of it.
But what about now? Where are the modern masters? I am not saying there aren’t some creative artists today, there are. But it seems many are merely reinventing the wheel (seriously, how many vampire movies/TV shows/books do we need?) I believe the problem is rooted in the fact that we spend too much time uploading information and not enough time processing it,understanding it and applying it in a new and unique way. Consuming is easy, producing takes work, and when we commit mental gluttony we get lazy in our thinking.
The Divine Mandate to Create and Exercise our Minds
We are made in the image of God.
God is a Creator.
We are made to create. It’s in our spiritual DNA. God wants man to “subdue” the earth. That means we are to leave our mark on it, not as consumers, but producers and creators. The mind was made to consume good information so that it could produce good creations.
This is where the gluttonous mind hits a road block. Creativity is hard. The lazy mind might undertake a creative project, only to leave it unfinished because it was too difficult to accomplish. A creator must be willing to:
- Think. No I mean it. Seriously, spend more than 15 minutes alone with your thoughts, and no TV, radio, computer, cell phone, video game or book to distract you. Thinking takes work, and it takes discipline to do it daily. For a great resource to get you started in this discipline, read John Piper’s, Think. It’s an excellent book on the need for and the development of the Christian mind.
- Write. Ideas only begin to take shape in the written form. The act of writing solidifies the dream, but at the same time exposes its weaknesses. In our “twitter” society we tend to think in cute little sayings of 140 characters or less. Creativity requires more. Much more.
- Read and study. Again, this requires being able to discern good information from the bad. But reading and studying is a big part of the creative process. My best sermon series ideas come from my Bible reading time. I usually read a passage, think on it for several minutes, and then write my thoughts in a notebook. This is all part of creating.
- Fail. No inventor got it right the first time. Thomas Edison had over 1,000 failed prototypes of the light bulb. Stephen King received dozens of rejection letters before selling his first novel. Steve Jobs was fired from the company that he founded (only to be rehired later when they realized how much of a creative genius he was!) Creators and producers must be willing to try and fail. I know this is hard in our Facebook world where we like to portray an image of perfection. But it’s necessary if we are to strengthen our minds.
- Be criticized. Every artist is critiqued. Every movie gets reviewed. Every book gets edited. Thick skin is necessary to the creative process, as is the ability to recognize and act on constructive criticism.
- Ignore the critics, even the good ones. There are times to listen to constructive criticism, and there are times to do it the way you feel is best because there is something inside you saying to leave it the way you want it. Remember, whatever you create- it’s yours, and yours alone.
- Work. Creativity takes work. Writers write, painters paint and creators create. Yes there are times you will create junk. Throw it out and start all over again. But keep working and keep producing and keep creating! Just as daily exercise eventually gets the lethargic body back into shape, you will find daily creating will motivate the lazy mind into action again.
So, how about it? Are you willing to shrug off the lazy thinking of this world and dig in deeper, down past all the bad information, and exercise your mind? You won’t regret it. Your mind will thank you for it!