The Daily Stoic for January the 24th: Push for deep understanding.
“From Rusticus . . . I learned to read carefully and not be satisfied with a rough understanding of the whole, and not to agree too quickly with those who have a lot to say about something.”
—MARCUS AURELIUS, MEDITATIONS, 1.7.3
Last year, we spent Christmas at my sister-in-law’s house in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK. She has two amazing daughters. One day, Caroline, the oldest of the two, caught my attention.
She was studying for her college exams. Her notes were in her left hand. Her laptop was on her lap, with her Facebook page opened. In the other hand, she was holding her phone and sending messages to her friends via Snapchat regularly.
I was fascinated by how she was able to actually pay attention to everything, but wondered how deeply was she learning her lesson, and how much of it would she remember the following day.
Notifications And The Attention Wars
We live in a hyperconnected world, and are subject to constant notifications. Emails, chat applications, social media… they are all
competing fighting for our attention. A well-documented consequence is how our attention span has decreased significantly in less than 20 years.
I have talked before about Deep Work, and why quitting social media -at least as a consumer- helps you stay more focused and less distracted. This applies also to learning new skills and our ability to deeply understand something.
In both cases, some distraction-free time is required for our brains to really grasp that knowledge.
Furthermore, we live in the world of instant, universal information access. Virtually any information you may think of is out there on the web. That is in fact something positive, and one of the greatest achievements of mankind.
However, it also has its dark side. When all you have to do to find an answer is ask Google, you don’t even care about learning or getting a deeper knowledge of anything. What’s the point, if you can easily find your answer with some clicks?
There’s a very interesting study on how the internet is changing our brains. As we have easy access to all the information of the world inside our pockets, we no longer need to know how to store information… we just need to learn where to find it.
To make things worse, our devices are also constantly pushing information on us. Email, news feeds, apps, chats… This continuous stream of data ends up overloading our brains… and we disconnect.
We Need To Push For Deep Understanding
There seems to be a general consensus that all these factors are affecting our ability to deeply understand things. That also means our ability to grasp real, valuable information for later use.
In my case, I can see it clearly on the developer community. The way developers face challenges has changed.
Back when I was in my 20’s, if you found a problem you couldn’t solve, you will read the documentation, study and learn about the topic. Then, you were able to solve the problem.
Nowadays, first thing a programmer does in that situation is searching on the internet for someone that has already solved the problem.
Ideally, there would be a framework that does exactly what you want. Then, you copy and paste some code -without caring much about learning it- and move on to the next task.
Yes, I acknowledge the latter is the fastest alternative. However, by just carelessly copying and pasting, we are forgetting to learn from that problem and grow as professionals.
I understand that devoting time to learn something in depth is not always possible when you have deadlines creeping up on you. Nevertheless, we need to do an effort and actually try to understand how things work, and how to solve problems, instead of just going for the quick patch.
Today’s Daily Stoic, “push for deep understanding” discusses how we need to practice a deep understanding of things. In today’s world of hyper-connectivity, constant notifications on our smartphones, and immediately available information access anywhere, this seems like an impossible task.
However, I think that really learning to solve problems instead of just looking for a copy and paste solution on the internet is essential to grow as professionals and be better, more educated persons.
What are your thoughts about this topic? Don’t hesitate to share them with us below!
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