By Matt Lumpkin

We are all drowning in a sea of information that we help create

We are all drowning in a sea of information that we help create

For most of human history the problem was not having enough information. But now text, image, and sound fill our world. How do we filter, limit, and focus our attention on the signal we need, buried in the noise?

When I’m the one sending the signal—asking for a person’s time and attention with my text, images, or sounds—I like to think about how can I let the reader know that I understand that their time and attention are valuable resources.  How can I offer clues to the content of my message that will invite them further in and show them that I care enough to ease their way and help them steward their time?

Here are a few questions I like to ask when sending and receiving messages:


  1. Think of the email subject or title heading from the perspective of your reader. What do they value? Does what I’ve written let them know they might find value here?
  2. Have I chosen the most convenient form of communication— email, text, phone, blog, etc.—for my intended recipient? Is there a means of communication the other person would prefer? What will make it easiest and fastest for them to give me what I’m asking for?
  3. One of the ways we filter is by scanning. This is not laziness. It is an attentional survival skill. Is there a way I can break up longer chunks of text into smaller bits? Could subject headings or lists help the reader identify where they need to deploy more attention on what they need?


  1. Does the urgency of the message match my assessment of its urgency?  Have I unconsciously adopted the urgency and values of the sender?  Can it wait?
  2. Is it time to shift the venue of the conversation to one with higher relational bandwidth? Three rounds of email exchanges clarifying the same topic are a good point to think about picking up the phone or scheduling a video chat.
  3. Am I catching the clues and hints the sender left for me? Is there a leading topic sentence or headline?  What things are brightly colored, centered or noticeably larger on the page?  These are all part of the language of design for screens that are migrating into other domains as a visual vernacular for staying afloat in the ocean of data while finding what we need.

Matt Lumpkin, MDiv, works at the intersection of theological education and technology in order to help this Gutenberg moment become a Wittenberg moment.

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