Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Information Overload: Can't It All Just Stop!?

Bandwidth (noun) 1.a person's capacity to handle or think about more than one thing at the same time.      
                    --Random House Dictionary

My niece Caroline was three or four years old. It was Christmas morning, the first year she fully experienced what that holiday meant for her as the sole grandchild in a clan full of adults, who all wanted to shower her with gifts galore. She was up at dawn, bouncing off the walls, munching on coffee cake, and then ripping into something like forty presents, all for her! But then mid-unwrapping, without warning, Caroline swooned back into the pile of discarded paper and bows, curled up and lay very still. 

Overload.  She’d exceeded her bandwidth limit.

It was all too much for her little mind to fathom.  Too many gifts.  Too much attention, stuff, colors, people, music. My brother Ed gently scooped her up and then into her bed for a nap and later she was fine.  But on that long ago December day, I saw what happens when we humans reach a limit in life, when we can no longer digest it all.  Face it all. Consider it all. 

When life is too full our bandwidth runs out.

Happens to toddlers, to adults, to all of us when the world throws too much at us and too fast. I’ve noticed this feeling of communal overload lately in the culture; like the world is spinning much too furiously and we can’t get off. 

We’ve got ISIS, with its gruesome beheadings plastered all over the Internet and the war its actions have triggered, a brand new war for the United States to lead and fight. Didn’t we just get out of two wars? And who’s on our side this time?  Turkey? Maybe. Syria? No, but we’re helping them. The rest of the world?  Who knows?

We’ve got the Ebola virus which has killed thousands in Africa and now seems to be knocking on the door of our shores. Or consider that poor man from Dallas who died from the virus, who also, inextricably, was sent away from the emergency room on his first visit. I trust the reassuring words the government agencies offer, that it will be ok, that there’s no threat but still—it’s scary stuff.

We’ve got the stock market which within twenty four hours last week registered its biggest one day loss of the year at 344 points, right after it shot up by 313 points, one of its biggest gains of the year.  Last week’s Dow Jones graph looks like a wild roller coaster ride, all peaks and valleys. Is one of the longest bull markets in history (five years and counting) coming to end?  Are housing prices and stock values too red hot, bubbles waiting to burst—AGAIN!?

Overload. Bandwidth exceeded. 

In 2014 we live in the most plugged in, over hyped, over informed, and overheated time in human history. We know too much for our own good and if we attempt to keep up with all the daily news, it can be like trying to drink from a fire hose. Doesn’t work.  We’re choking on information.  We plug ourselves into machines and streams which never stop: TV blaring, email sharing, cell phones ringing, texts pinging, Facebook updating, Twitter tweeting.  We’re techno addicts who don’t know how to cease checking in, looking at the screen, waiting for the next cyber rush.  And so of course, at some point, our spirits go on the fritz.  Sputter.  Overflow.

Can we just stop? STOP!

Maybe that’s the spiritual answer to our overloaded, bandwidth crammed days and nights.  To stop.  To breathe. To rest. To play. To turn off the phone and have dinner with the family with no interruptions. To turn off the TV and take a walk under a technicolor canopy of leaves. To turn off the laptop and ride a bike. Pick some apples. Jump in a pile of leaves. Find the best pumpkin you can and then carve it up.

ISIS? Ebola? The markets? They can wait. Taking a break doesn’t mean we don’t care or that we don’t want to do something. But the human heart and mind and soul can only absorb so much.  Too much stimulation and information and we will eventually crash. 

Stop.  That we can do.  The world’s daily crises, real and imagined, harrowing and hyped—they’ll all go on. Me? I’m going to let God carry it all, for just awhile.   

I heard the foliage is spectacular this year and I want to view firsthand and up close that miraculous God given show, to feed my soul and get off the merry go round but first: I have to stop. STOP. Give my bandwidth a well deserved break. 

May you do the same too.

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