The Daily Stoic for April 14th. “Becoming an expert in what matters”.
“Believe me, it’s better to produce the balance-sheet of your own life than that of the grain market.”
—SENECA, ON THE BREVITY OF LIFE, 18.3b
We live under a constant information overload. We have built a digital society where consumption of information has become a daily habit… And a lucrative business.
Most digital tools, applications and services nowadays need your time. They fight for your attention to sell you something or make you give as much information as possible to serve you ads.
The Information Overload Society
This fact has two important consequences:
First, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to focus your energies and attention on something. I have talked before about how social media and other distractions can affect your ability to perform deep work. But not only work. When was the last time that you sat on your sofa, coffee or tea in hand, and were able to read your favorite book for 2-3 hours straight without any interruption?
In order to do that today, you need to switch off your mobile phone, put it on airplane mode or disable all notifications. Maybe that’s not even enough. Our information overload society is also a notification overload society.
Second, it’s also becoming almost impossible to find real, relevant, impartial information. That might sound like a paradox in the era of Google. You can just type some words on a textfield, click enter and… Bam! you have access to millions of results.
However, stop and think for a minute how these pages are built, and why. What pages top the first results. Not only the signal to noise ratio has decreased, but the commercial interests behind the web have increased.
That explains why the vast majority of young teenagers can’t tell the difference between a real search result and a Google ad. Or why most students don’t know when news is fake. These statistics should scare you.
Becoming An Expert In What Matters
Additionally, another worrisome consequence is the fact that a lot of irrelevant information is being pushed down our throats every day. That’s what’s been recently called infotainment. Basically, it’s information short enough to fit your -increasingly short- attention span, and engaging enough to keep your interest and make you ask for more.
There’s nothing wrong, of course, in allowing yourself some time to procrastinate on the internet occasionally, as long as you deliberately realize you are spending time on that.
However, I think we need to fight this passive information absorption. We need to be selective with the information we consume. We don’t really need to know everything.
Don’t treat information as a superfluous, shallow flow of entertainment. Try to consciously choose the information you want to acquire, and learn of what you read, listen, see or experience. It’s probably harder, yes, but it’s more rewarding, and the effort is worth it in the long run.
This also applies to your inner life. Use some of that time you usually spend reading yet another reddit thread or looping endlessly through Twitter to do something meaningful. Something that will add value to your life.
Today’s Daily Stoic, “Becoming An Expert In What Matters”, contains a powerful message for our information overload society. Instead of passively consuming irrelevant information that’s pushed to our screens, be picky on the information you choose to receive. Also, try to learn from it, not just use it as entertainment.