Wisdom for the Information Age
Review of ‘The Wisdom Pyramid’ by Brett McCracken
Our world has more and more information, but less and less wisdom,” writes Brett McCracken in The Wisdom Pyramid.
How much more information? Consider this: One billion gigabytes of data is called an exabyte. Prior to the Information Age, all the words humans had spoken since the dawn of time equaled five exabytes of data. In 2025, that amount of data will be produced every 15 minutes.
And you can access most of it on your smartphone.
The Information Age has considerable upsides, no doubt. McCracken notes three: The Internet gives us easy access to all this information, it offers us platforms to share our points of view, and through its rating algorithms, it is able to offer us the consensus view on a given topic.
On the downside, however, what McCracken calls “information gluttony” leaves users with multiple symptoms of dis-ease: anxiety, fragmentation, impotence in the face of multiple tragedies, decision paralysis, and confirmation bias. As McCracken put it, “the lure of infinite, godlike knowledge wreaks havoc.”
The downside isn’t just information gluttony, however. The Information Age also enflames our desires for “perpetual novelty” and “ ‘look within’ autonomy.” It discards the tried-and-true in favor of the new, with the assumption that newness necessarily entails improvement. Moreover, it exacerbates modernity’s skepticism of authority in favor of autonomy and authenticity. This can be seen in the terminological sleight of hand by which the truth has devolved to my truth.
In short, McCracken puts it, the problem in the Information Age is that we consume “too much” information “too fast” and “too focused on [us].” Wisdom in such an age requires “discernment” of the sources of good information, “patience” in how we assess them, and “humility” before God.
“The lure of infinite, godlike knowledge wreaks havoc.”
So, how do we learn these virtues? According to McCracken, we need to rethink what and how much information we consume. In 1992, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued the Food Pyramid, which described the kinds and amounts of food healthy eaters should consume daily. McCracken uses the Food Pyramid as the visual inspiration for the Wisdom Pyramid.
At the base of the Wisdom Pyramid is Scripture, “God’s very words to us,” McCracken writes. “When we read the Bible, we are encountering God himself.” The next layer is the Church, understood as both the contemporary local church and Christian tradition across time. “At its best, the church takes us out of the uncertainty of the ephemeral and places us in the certainty of the eternal.” The third layer is nature, which McCracken calls “a prism and amplifier of God’s glory.”
Layer four is books, which are “vital in cultivating wisdom — not only for the truths they contain, but also for the way they help us think.” Beauty is the fifth layer. This refers to the experience of things both God and humanity have made. “Beauty shapes our hearts, orients our loves, quiets our minds, and stills our souls in a noisy and weary world. It’s a profoundly important part of any wisdom diet,” McCracken writes.
The final layer of the Wisdom Pyramid is where most of us spend too much time and mental effort: the Internet and social media. Given the excesses and temptations of the digital world, it is tempting simply to go offline. But like the humans who created them, the Internet and social media can be good or bad, depending on how we use them. McCracken encourages engagement: “Don’t leave these spaces to rot. Instead, find ways to heal, to redeem, to be light in the darkness.”
As a Christian magazine editor who spends a good deal of time reading, both in print and online, I found The Wisdom Pyramid to be both insightful and helpful. It is insightful about the cause of the malaise I personally feel everyday as I interact online. And it is helpful about how to sift so much (and so often contradictory) information for nuggets of wisdom. I enthusiastically recommend this book to Christian readers. Discussion questions at the end of each chapter make it a good candidate for conversations in book clubs, small groups, and even Sunday school classes.
Brett McCracken, The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021).