THE INFORMATION / OPTION OVERLOAD and what to do about it

It has never been more important to choose, or more difficult.

Information used to be hard to come by. Now we carry more data and processing power around in our handheld devices than Neal Armstrong took to the moon, and it increases exponentially by the hour. Lev Grossman, in the June 25 issue of TIME, reports, “Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, once estimated that every two days humanity creates a quantity of data equivalent to the entire amount created from the dawn of time up until 2003 … Every day humanity tweets 500 million times, shares 70 million photos on Instagram and watches 4 billion videos on Facebook. For every minute that passes, we upload 300 hours of new content to YouTube.”

And it isn’t just information. Consider the options before us as consumers:

• More than 800,000 apps in the Apple App Store
• 240-plus selections on the Cheesecake Factory menu, not including lunch or brunch special
• 135 mascaras, 437 lotions and 1,992 fragrances at Sephora.com
• In 1980, the typical credit card contract was about 400 words long. Today, many are 20,000 words.
• One company, PC Pitstop, deliberately buried a clause in its end-user license agreement, offering $1,000 to the first person who emailed the company at a certain address. It took five months and 3,000 sales until someone claimed the money.*

We are a culture in the middle of information – option overload.

It used to be that if you wanted to find a spouse you went to church, the social, to college, or to a bar. With e-Dating your options are almost endless. If you wanted a job you either did what dad did or apprenticed out, or looked at the classifieds. Now you post your skill set on Linkedin for thousands of HR managers to read, and tell all your Facebook friends what you’re looking for.

The information – option boom is both a blessing and a curse; a blessing because more options mean a greater range of possibilities, and a curse because more info and options make choosing more difficult. We want to make the best decision possible, so we keep searching, keep clicking, keep scanning, and keep hesitating. That’s where the rub comes, and where I see many people floundering, missing out on God’s best for their lives.

The modern proverb, “Failing to choose is choosing to fail,” is close to the point. Every choice has costs, the first of which is that it excludes other choices. But refusing to choose slams the door to the fruit that can only be produced by disciplined, long-term commitment to a single path. For example, I would love to be able to play the piano and speak another language, but I never committed to either task and cannot experience the blessings. Some choices, like marriage, like financial discipline, or like personal growth, are more serious. Refusing to choose is in fact a choice: a choice of perpetual drift, unending insecurity, and guaranteed mediocrity.

We cannot know all outcomes of all possible options, so we must choose, and that choice comes down to faith. The Bible is a book about a God who chooses a people and calls them into the blessings of obedience, the benefits of choosing faith in his word, his plan, and his Son. He wants what is best for us and has given us instructions on how to live in a world of endless options. All we have to do is choose.

It’s never been more important to choose, or more difficult. But we make our choices and then our choices make us. Make the choice to obey God and you will know the fruit of a life with him.

*Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn, “When Simplicity Is the Solution,” The Wall Street Journal (3-29-13)

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