In 1985, then Senator Al Gore, coined the term Information Superhighway. This term referred to the goal of having every citizen connected with information at all times. While this seemed like a noble idea at the time, we have discovered that our minds are not designed for this never-ending flow of television programming and “binge” watching, continuous newsfeeds, social media, email, text messaging, phone calls, smart watches, video gaming, and who knows what else in the future. People seem to have an appetite for this constant flow of information that many refer to as the Infobahn, after the German super highway, the Autobahn. Whatever the term, this relentless flow of information is causing some very serious mental health problems, especially among our children and teenagers, whose brains are not ready to process so much information.
Many of us grew up watching the nightly news and reading newspapers that contained day old information, and we were completely oblivious to what people were eating for dinner the next street over because it was not posted on social media. The flow of information was much more limited and filtered. God even tells us in the Gospel of John, chapter 21, verse 25, “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.”
God, Himself does not want us on the Infobahn, even when it comes to His Word. There is so much more that God could have put in the Bible, but He did not. Our brains are not designed for all this data. Just because the brain can hold the information, does not mean we need the information.
Adam and Eve got in trouble because of their desire for information. God was withholding certain amounts and types of information from Adam and Eve for their protection. God forbade them to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If they did, it would open their eyes to information harmful to God’s plan for them. However, they became convinced they could not live without this information. Temptation got the best of them. They could not resist the appetite for more information, even though God warned them to stay away from it.
God knows exactly what we need, and excessive, relentless information is not a need.
Satan promised Adam and Eve that if they simply ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that their eyes would be open and they would be like God. Satan promised information that would radically change their world. However, all Adam and Eve noticed was after eating the forbidden fruit was their nakedness and shame. Certainly, they now knew what God knew and this information was anything but rewarding. This has to be the most anti-climatic scene in all of history. Knowledge and information are not power. God’s wisdom is power.
Unnecessary information hurt Adam and Eve and all of mankind. It is still hurting us today. I have concluded that our rapid-fire information overload or Infobahnis affecting us in five critical ways. These are especially impacting our young people who are going to suffer enormous consequences down the road as they head into adult hood.
1. Comparison. The constant flow of social media information and videos is driving our young people to incessant comparison. They are enamored by YouTube families and individuals who present a filtered or censored life that our young people are interpreting as normal. They watch extremely unhealthy T.V. shows such as “Sixteen and Pregnant.” Their peers share pictures and stories that present primarily a positive side of life while leaving out the negative. They see pictures of a party or get together with friends and immediately realize that they were not invited. Depression, discouragement, envy, jealousy, and anger are more prevalent than ever among our young people. Peer pressure has always been a challenge for children and teenagers long before the Infobahn. Today, the pressure is multiple times greater than many of us could ever imagine.
2. Busy bodies. A fairly new cultural trend is the sharing of people’s entire lives on social media. People are voluntarily surrendering their privacy. In years past most people fought to keep their private lives private and their public lives limited to friends and family. This is no longer the case as many people share intimate details of much of their life on social media. Today, many young people believe they must know everything that is going on with everyone due to the overload of personal lives on public platforms. When information is withheld from them, they are offended and insulted. Like Adam and Eve, they are driven by the need for more information. We see the results of this in our colleges, as more and more students feel like the world owes them something. The mental instability on our college campuses today is at dangerous levels.
The American Psychological Association reports that, “Since the 1990s, university and college counseling centers have been experiencing a shift in the needs of students seeking counseling services from developmental and informational needs, to psychological problems.
“In the 2014 National Survey of College Counseling Centers, respondents reported that 52 percent of their clients had severe psychological problems, an increase from 44 percent in 2013. A majority of respondents noted increases over the past 5 years of anxiety disorders, crises requiring immediate response, psychiatric medication issues and clinical depression. In a 2016 survey of students by the American College Health Association, 52.7 percent of students surveyed reported feeling that things were hopeless and 39.1 percent reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function during the past 12 months,” ( https://www.apa.org/advocacy/higher-education/mental-health/).
A sense of entitlement and privilege dominate college campuses today, and when students are denied that which they falsely believe they have a right to, it causes all kinds of mental health disorders in their still underdeveloped brains.
3. Narcissism. Narcissism is when a person has an oversized view of their own importance and influence. One significant trait of narcissism is a craving for admiration and recognition. We all crave this at some level, but social media pours gasoline on this fire and ignites the small flame to a blazing forest fire. How many “likes” a picture or post receives makes our young people (and older ones too) ripe for narcissism that may have not been as prevalent 20 years ago.
The constant flow of information on social media sites sets off a chain reaction of people wanting to make a name for themselves. We used to see only the faces of Hollywood actors and actresses displayed all over news sites and movie screens. Now we see everyone’s face all over our computer screens, phones, etc. We can all be a star. We compete for “likes” and “shares”. It’s like fishing for compliments, and when we don’t get them, we became angry, discouraged, and even depressed.
4. Addictions.According to addictionresource.com, “The misuse of the technology can lead to dependency and it can assume a nurturing role for other behavioral addictions outside the internet. The most common examples are online gambling, shopping, and virtual sex addiction. According to the investigations made, pathological gambling and drug addiction have neurobiologically common etiopathogenesis; compulsive shopping, excessive internet use and compulsive sexual behaviors may also be using the same mechanisms,” (https://addictionresource.com/addiction/technology-addiction).
Essentially, technology and the flow of information on demand is causing severe psychological dependency amongst our population. It is causing serious problems with the ability to cope with emotions while at the same time stimulating the brain like a drug. It causes pleasure and reward in the brain that demands to be stimulated over and over. Information is highly addictive.
“One study shows that Americans check their phones every twelve minutes, while one in ten checks them every four. When unable to do so they begin to feel anxiety. This just shows how dependent we are, and how social media and technology addiction is a real issue,” (https://addictionresource.com/addiction/technology-addiction/social-media-addiction).
5. Isolation.Many people complain of anxiety and nervousness when spending too much time away from their computers, phones, etc. Young people are developing serious personality disorders due to their inability to interact with real people, despite having hundreds if not thousands of social media friends. Social media gives people a false sense of attachment to others while in reality they are very unattached and lonely. People are lonely without feeling alone. Relationships are shallow and hollow. More and more young people are even opting to stay home from church on Sundays in order to watch a service online, all the while defeating one of the primary purposes of church—fellowship.
Hebrews 10:25 states clearly that we are to, “Not [forsake] the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” We must not avoid coming together as a church family on a regular basis. We need each other. God did not create independent people. God did not create dependent people. God did not create codependent people. God created interdependent people. We desperately need the physical presence of others.
According to this verse, one of the main reasons for coming together in church is for encouragement or exhortation. Everyone has problems. Everyone gets overloaded. Everyone needs encouragement. How do you know if someone needs your uplifting words of encouragement? If they are breathing, they need to be encouraged.
We respond to all of this information like a fly to a fire. The fly is drawn to the light, only to be consumed by the fire. We can’t seem to resist the access we have to all this data. The more we are given the more we need to know. Information that was once unavailable to us, and we really didn’t care about, is now important and provides us with other reasons to worry and become anxious.
One mom told me recently that her teenage daughter’s friends dislike her because she makes the girls put their phones away during sleepovers at her house. Now many of these girls refuse or even speak to the mom when they see her at school events. The mom told me that these young girls can’t even have a conversation with an adult without glancing at their phones several times a minute.
The impact of our addiction to information is far-reaching. Mental health problems are on the rise. Reality is being skewed. Isolation is becoming more prevalent, and people are literally becoming less intelligent. “A few years ago, a study commissioned by Hewlett-Packard reported that the IQ scores of knowledge workers distracted by e-mail and phone calls fell from their normal level by an average of 10 points—twice the decline recorded for those smoking marijuana, several commentators wryly noted,” (https://hbr.org/2009/09/death-by-information-overload).
Furthermore, “a 2012 study conducted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences discovered that people who are diagnosed with internet addiction disorder have physical abnormalities in their brains. They had abnormalities in the integrity of white matter in certain regions of the brain that control decision-making, emotional control, and attention spans. This is why people who are addicted to their phones would usually perform poorly in these areas,” (familylifegoals.com, Giving Your Child a Smartphone Is Like Giving Them Drugs, Says Top Addiction Expert).
We live in a world that is trying to drink the information or Niagara Falls in order to satisfy a thirst that can be quenched with a glass of water. It’s drowning us as we keep begging for more. Our Infobahn is leading us to mental, physical, and spiritual problems that are going to have long-lasting consequences.