To Say No to Such Great and Pushy Possibilities

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I was just downloading four hours of podcasts from the Beretta blog, thinking about how I could listen to them on my next trip. The Internet is great. There are so many ways to grow and learn here! I’m quite sure Glenn Peeples will give me considerably more insight on the human soul.

Of course that’s not all I could listen to on the road. I’m subscribed to other podcasts, like Reasonable Doubts and The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, a pair of pretty good atheistic blogs that very helpfully challenge my thinking. I have a stack of books by Ehrman, Loftus, and I forget who else that I want to read for the same reason, though I haven’t had time to get to them. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m only leaving the atheists unread, of course; I have a 900-page book on naturalism waiting to be read; it comes from all perspectives. And then there’s Mike Licona’s long historiographical study of the Resurrection. I actually keep a computer list of high priority books to read. It’s got 43 items on it. A lot of them came from publishers asking me to do reviews; that’s one of the benefits/burdens of running a blog.

Speaking of which, I was starting to wander off my topic, which is the Internet. I have about 40 hours of podcasts waiting to be listened to. And did you realize there’s a whole page of William Lane Craig debate videos? Did you know there’s an ebook out there on the historical evidences for the New Testament?

Those are the long-form items that are so attractive, but sometimes I just have a few minutes. I have to keep up with conversations on my own blogs, obviously, so I make that a priority. But there are a jillion other good blogs out there, on any topic you can think of. All I have to do is put them in my RSS reader and I get their headlines and stories sent straight to me. I wish Facebook would do that. It would make it so much easier to keep up with the groups I’m in—five of them. Our family has groups for both Mom’s and Dad’s side of the family. There’s a fun group someone set up for memories of old times in the small town where I grew up. There’s a professional group I thought I should join. And there’s a Christian apologists’ group that’s quite active and in many ways encouraging and helpful to me.

I don’t just do theology and blogging, of course. I love classical music, jazz, and classic rock, so I love iTunes. Hulu can be pretty fun if you use the right discernment. (Every time you get on the Internet you have to use the right discernment.) My kids like to show me fun stuff on Failblog, and I could spend hours there on my own.

What a treasure trove! I could spend all day on these things for months and never catch up. I’d actually fall further behind every day. And in case you hadn’t noticed, what’s missing from this wow-I-could-do-this list are time with family, friends, and church, time canoeing or walking in the woods, prayer and devotional time, time to write the book I’ve been working on, time to quietly be me.

RSS feeds, podcast subscriptions, email (did I mention email?), Facebook, and Twitter are aptly described as “push” technologies. They send us their stuff on their initiative, not ours. They don’t just push onto our computers: they push into our attention. They want to push into our schedules—hours at a time. Blog comments can be similar in their effect, although for my part I can’t (and don’t) blame commenters; I asked for your participation, after all, and I still want it. It’s one of my priorities.

Which brings me to the point of this reflection. The Internet is pushy. Chances are you experience it the same way: it keeps shoving on your time and attention. You and I have to set our own priorities. We have to push back.

I find that to be one of the most difficult things to do every day: to say no to some really great article, dialogue, video, or podcast. There are at least fifty to a hundred really outstanding things I could be doing at any one time, and I have to say no to forty-nine to ninety-nine of them. I don’t like saying no to so many good things! But such is the way things go. Other than listening to music or a podcast while I’m driving or doing mindless busy-work, I really don’t believe there is such a thing as multi-tasking. I can’t do even two of these good things at once.

So I have to say no to all these good things—which is painful. One of my most helpful aids is a software program called Freedom. It’s a simple little thing that kicks my computer off the Internet for whatever length of time I specify. I’ve started using it some evenings to help me be more present with myself and with my family. I think it’s well named: it provides freedom from being pushed on. It’s freedom, too, from “I wonder if so-and-so answered that email yet; I’ll just check real quick.”

That helps with one part of the problem. For the rest of it I have to give myself my own freedom: freedom not to do every good thing, which is impossible anyway. I haven’t figured out how best to handle the push. It takes new skills and disciplines. I’m working through what it all means. If you were expecting me to say I had it figured out, I’m sorry; I’m only beginning to recognize the problem for what it is.

Anyway, I’m still planning to listen to those Peeples podcasts on my next trip—along with the twelve hours of other podcasts I have saved up for the same purpose.