Overchoice, Priorities, and Filters

ALL THE WAY BACK IN 1970 (and stay with me here, you younger whipper-snappers…even an old geezer might have something worth saying)…anyway, all the way back in 1970, I ran into one of the books that would make a lifelong impact on me: Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler.

In his seminal analysis of societal change, Toffler spoke of the accelerating pace of life, of the “dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future,” and a phenomenon for which he coined a new word: overchoice.

As a kid, I remember the corner market in my town. The items—and their prices—rarely changed, and I could easily find anything in the store. Even the “big” store—the local Safeway—in my day had about 10,000 items.

Today I walk into a “superstore” and need a map to find anything in the acres of “stuff” stretching to the horizon. The average supermarket now stocks over 45,000 items. A Wal-Mart Supercenter can carry over 100,000 items.

Want more? Consider the Internet. More than 433 million websites—offering 15 billion pages.

Overchoice.

TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, the Internet, the superstore and every other store in your town—they are all after two things that you and I have: attention…and a decision.

And every new day, we wake up to spend our hours being bombarded with an endless cacophony of ads, commercials, pitches, appeals, enticements, and offers—every last one of them competing for your attention and mine.

The voices that snag our attention then try to push our buttons so we’ll decide something, so that we’ll choose: to buy, to give, to sign up, to join, to get involved, to donate, to say yes to love or no to drugs.

Overchoice.

Then, besides the unsolicited barrage of voices with an agenda, there’s your life—and mine. Decisions to be made about big things like career and life companion and spiritual stance. Important things like finances and health and relationships. Necessary things like car maintenance and shopping to restock and trips to the bank and post office. Personal things like which TV programs to watch, what music to download, what clothes to wear today.

Your chooser getting tired yet?

Truth is, there’s not a prayer that any of us can address every available choice in a day’s time. So to survive overchoice without being overwhelmed, we are going to have to prioritize and filter. And I’ll tell you something I’ve discovered by living a while: these two things don’t just happen. They are the result of deliberate, focused thought, planning, and reflection.

Millions float downstream through their days, drifting willy nilly at the whim of the most successful appeals to their power of choice. They choose, often without really knowing it, what’s easy, what’s most fun, what feels best, what brings the fastest gratification.

“This one thing I do,” the Apostle Paul wrote (more on this in a moment). Paul focused. He chose. He prioritized. He filtered. And he accomplished. He succeeded. His life mattered.

It’s still early in 2008. Consider taking a day—just one day—to get alone with a pen and pad, quietness, no cell or email, and just your thoughts. Prioritize for this year. Apply the filters you’ll use to automatically shut out certain voices.

Where will God fit into your life and your year? What changes will you choose to make and follow-through till they’re new habits? What voices will you give more attention? Less?

A plaque on my college dorm-room wall said: “Paul said, ‘This one thing I do—not, these 40 things I dabble in.’” You and I are amazingly blessed with the sovereign power of choice. Let’s choose to cut the dabbling, zero in on what matters, and transform life this year. It CAN be done!

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Lara on January 13, 2008 at 10:56 pm

    How often I think of this exact subject. Thanks for writing about it. I tried once to introduce the subject obliquely in an adult Sabbath School class under the heading of integrity (“whole, unbroken, in one piece”), but got some blank looks. Choice is considered a good thing, and if some is good, more is better, right?

    I think the underlying fear for some of us is that when we stand before the judgment bar of God, we’ll be held accountable for each good deed we didn’t do (whether we actually could have accomplished it or not) and every good cause we didn’t embrace. Sort of an “I’m going to hell because I’m not Superman” outlook.

    Classic perfectionistic works orientation. Perhaps I feel vaguely guilty whenever I see a commercial featuring starving children in Africa and I don’t fly over immediately to bring them my food; or whenever I hear of any mission project anywhere in the world that I’m not going on. In a sense, one consequence of “overchoice” has been “overguilt”–a sense of personal responsibility for every possible good work in the world.

    I won’t say Christians are suffering from performing too many good deeds. Perhaps one function of this universal, free-floating guilt that attaches to anything good around us is actually a way of getting out of doing good deeds. I may not be doing the good deed, but I –feel– bad about it, and therefore I’m a good person. This is a rationalization I’ve heard once or twice.

    Overchoice. Great term, great posting.

    Reply

  2. Even Jesus, I’m reasonably sure, didn’t try to accomplish every possible good deed He could have while here. Otherwise, every illness would have been healed, every injustice righted…

    But He too prioritized. He too made every choice serve His current and long-term goals. He too filtered out the din of distraction to focus on His mission.

    So overguilt is likely to be false and unmerited. If we get our marching orders from above each day, we’re not likely to accomplish too little.

    It’s also true that in working on our own “stuff,” we’re actually becoming better equipped to be of service to others.

    Thanks for the extra food for thought. If “everything depends on the right action of the will,” maybe in considering choice, we’re onto something!

    Reply

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