Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cutting out information junk food

Last week I heard a story on NPR about a new book, The Information Diet, that was about how we all are suffering from information-obesity.  The parallel was drawn that the same thing that happened to food in the past century is happening to information.  Food used to be scarce, lots of people were growing it themselves, and calories were expensive.  Now we have "food scientists" who have figured out how to make things called twinkies and ho-ho's that have "best if used by" dates up to 2 years from now.

And calories have become cheap.  But with that, calories have become figuratively cheap.  They're crap.  The same thing is happening to information.  We have tons of it.  Everywhere.  We're swimming in it.  Actually, sometimes we feel like we're drowning in it.  There are books published about how to deal with it, thus giving us more information to take in.  It's freaking everywhere.  But it's largely junk.  The difference between Fox News and the Huffington Post really isn't that great.  It's just junk that's made up to confirm the beliefs that the readers already have.

I spend my time wondering how to keep up with everything I'm interested in.  How do I keep up with all the blogs, the tweets, the podcasts, the tv shows (speaking of which, I just discovered Portlandia...where the hell have I been, right?), not to mention the books and new albums (and old albums).  There just isn't enough time in the day to keep up with it all, as well as answer work emails and hold down a job.

Oh, but there is.  On an average day, I probably spend at least an hour putzing around on the Huffington Post.  A few stories here in the morning, a video or two mid-morning, getting lost in a web of links at lunch... it adds up.  Plus, I watch The Daily Show religiously.  But seriously, what am I getting out of it?  Is that the stuff I really care about?  Yeah, it's fun to laugh at Republicans, and watch people doing stupid things on youtube, but seriously, is it making me smarter?  Is it adding value to my life?  When I'm done, do I think, "man, that was a good way to spend a few minutes of my life that I'll never get back"?

No.  I do not.

And so, I am on the information diet. I am giving up the sugar-equivalent of information, and sticking to the stuff I really care about.  Like the Madeleine Brand show.  I love her.  And Planet Money.  And the St. Matthew Passion.  You know, the important stuff in life.

I'm thinking that it's going to make a huge difference in my quest to achieve more mindfulness in life.  Because anything that sucks that much time away from you can't be mindfulness-approved.

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