Information age discernment

What's the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? In 2012, a statistic surfaced that 50% of 18-34 years olds check Facebook when they first wake up. Which means that before you eat or shower or get ready for the day, you've already ingested stories, pictures, shares, comments, likes and emojis from about 330 people (the average number of Facebook friends). Whether or not you check straight up or if you're in the other half that needs toast and coffee before you Facebook, the average length of time spent on Facebook in one visit is 20 minutes, in which throughout the world over 1 million links are shared, 1.5 million event invites are sent, 1.8 million statuses are updated, 2 million friend requests are accepted, 2.7 million photos are uploaded, 2.7 million messages are sent and 10.2 million comments are made (statistics sourced from "the social skinny", "zephoria" and "big think").

And that's just one social media platform. How many other platforms do you engage with throughout the day? Think about how much information you're interacting with on Facebook alone, now multiply that by the number of social media platforms, emails and other web interactions you engage with and you get a sense of just how much information we process throughout a single day.

I'm in that first 50% who checks social media first thing when I wake up. Usually I check Instagram, where I follow a number of motivational feeds (is that embarrassing to admit?) I avoid the cheesy ones ("You don't need wings to fly, only a vision"), preferring those that present solid content, which I use to visualise the sort of day I want to have. This was a post I woke up to this morning:

This became the basis for my prayer and contemplation this morning, as I prayed in thanksgiving for who I was created to be, and prayed about who I am becoming.

We truly live in an information age. That phrase is a bit of a throw away line, but really the amount of information we encounter throughout one day just through our online interactions is close to incomprehensible. But what do we do with all this information right at our fingertips?

Guys, the discernment world has changed. How we approach the spiritual journey can be radically different. We're in a time now, like never before, where spiritual direction, accompaniment and mentoring is readily available through podcasts, blogs, forums, networking and the personal testimonies we encounter on social media. Want to know more about a saint, or learn a new prayer, or find commentary on the scriptures - it's all there (but don't take Wikipedia as gospel!)

The information age gives us access to the ideas and formation that can help us to continually shape how we respond to the call. Having begun a Masters in Business Administration, I stumbled upon an online journal article on social entrepreneurship. Googling what this meant ("social entrepreneurs are people who have identified new and innovative approaches that help address entrenched social problems in the community") led me to a podcast, and to several profiles on linkedIn. This new influx of information and ideas has shaped a new perspective for me on ministry and leadership in the Church, even effecting the way I discern ideas for my present work.

Now, admittedly I do geek out a little bit, and I perhaps spend a disproportionate amount of time reading articles and listening to podcasts. But what I'm getting at here is that self-development is not reserved for the elite or to the corporate world. What we need to ask ourselves though is how are we learning and growing through our interactions with the information age?

Of course, a podcast or a blog is not going to replace an actual spiritual director or mentor, and engaging with people online does not replace the real value of belonging to a community. But we can grow our discipleship by being conscious of the information we consume each day. Rather than shutting out the noise to contemplate God, we can discern through it to shape ourselves to better contemplate God's calling in our lives for our world.

So, my challenge to you is this: First, be conscious of all your online interactions. Second, pick at least one daily interaction which will positively shape and influence you in some way (doesn't matter how big or small). Third, on whichever social media platform you engage with most, regularly share positive messages in that space (again, doesn't have to be big).

Our call is to become truly who God made us to be, because that person can fully share the love of Christ and the Good News. So don't take for granted your capacity for growth and development. We have the resources and the accessibility to respond to our vocation in a dynamic way.