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05 June 2015

Information overload

Information overload

Today there's controversy over whether Facebook should allow a video clip of a baby being dunked repeatedly in water. Last week, a Danish radio DJ killed a baby rabbit live on air. A week or so before that IS troops entered the UNESCO World Heritage site of Palmyra and, so the news told us, were going to destroy it. A year before that, Australian shock jocks prank-called London's King Edward VII hospital, and the nurse who put the callers through to Princess Kate committed suicide soon afterwards.

Each of these events saw Twitter light up with an almost incandescent fury. The indignation of liberal-minded people was palpable. And while I am aware that Friday Night Theology likes to keep things topical, I want to make the point that what is topical is not always what is important, or even news. Topical is the news equivalent of fashionable. On trend. The thing that everyone is talking about, right now. And in an attempt to be seen to be in on this thing, whatever it is, we tweet and retweet, we blog, we comment, we post links on our Facebook pages, we do everything we can to announce that we too are aware of this dreadful thing.

In the digital age, news arrives quickly and ages fast. Apart from the occasional lazy Sunday, I don't read papers –I find them depressing, but my Facebook feed contains link after link to stories from around the globe, each with an army of angry commenters demanding blood, or resignations, or arrests. Thanks to Twitter I can follow almost every English-speaking news service on the planet and click on their links should I feel in the mood to be shocked or scandalised.

But much of it leaves me feeling empty;it is the news equivalent of junk food or a one-night stand. There is no substance, no meaning and nothing that lasts. You probably hadn't thought about the prank DJs for some time until you read this blog. I defy anyone who isn't related to remember either of their names, or the nurse who died. Can any of you name the Danish radio station or the rabbit-killing DJ without the aid of Google? Have the epic ruins of Palmyra been razed to rubble as promised by the BBC?

We live in an age where news is as much about entertainment as information. The makers of news have a product to sell. They need readers, viewers and listeners otherwise the people who use their channels for advertising will abandon them. Yet we are hardwired to believe that news is important. All of it. We don't want to miss out. From our caveman days, we know that information is power. Intelligence about our world is critical if we are to survive it. But now we are in information overload, how do we discern what is important and what is not?

Millions of people get worked up over something that is news for a day. Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ emerged from a closed tomb, physically alive, three days after he had been executed on a Roman Cross. This is proper news;news people still talk about today. "Heaven and Earth will pass away but my words will never pass away," says Jesus in Matthew 24. Maybe we should focus on the important things rather than garlanding insignificant things with importance they don't deserve. And don't get me wrong, I love rabbits. But if the act of killing was so morally and culturally outrageous, why is it on the shelf marked last week's news? The truth is that much of the day-to-day news of earth will pass away. Some major items will stick. And while we all tweet and blog about them, the gospel, the good news of Jesus, goes on.

Chas Bayfield is an advertising creative director