The Case Against 2x Speed
The information consumption gold rush is upon us! 100 books a year, audiobooks and podcasts at 2x speed, YouTube lectures playing in the background as we cook. It’s all about checking off the next book, podcast, documentary, and tweet thread on the list.
You would never watch your favorite movie at 2x speed or gulp down your favorite dessert in two bites, so why consume information like that?
I hypothesize that this 2x lifestyle is a consequence of our education system, social media, and our unhealthy habit of letting society define our self-worth.
The education system has primed us to equate information with knowledge. As students, we crammed information, were even encouraged to do so, and most of us did that right before the exam. These exams were nothing more than a glorified memory test; they rarely even attempted to check proper understanding of the subject. The worst part is that the system isn’t even good at ensuring long-term retention of information. Most education systems around the world have primed people to equate information to knowledge and understanding. Students bring this philosophy to their adult lives where technology is making the situation worse for every new generation as the amount, forms, and access to information explodes.
Social media or technology, in general, has done wonders for the world as it allowed us unfettered access to people and information. You can learn quantum mechanics from Stanford professors right from your living room! It sounds like a utopia, but why and how we consume information have been corrupted. We are consuming information because we don’t want to look stupid, want to Instagram the massive stack of books we read, and feel like we are moving forward by checking off the next item on the list. We create this illusion of knowledge for ourselves and others. If that wasn’t bad enough, some of us then share our half-baked understanding with potentially devastating consequences. The pandemic and global warming have shown us the perils of insufficient knowledge and unchecked information consumption.
Social media has also pushed a culture of consuming summaries and equating that to knowledge; if only one could learn strategy or physics in 280 characters! As David Perell put in his ‘’Never-Ending Now’Now’ essay ‘’We prioritize speed over depth and urgent over important’’. We rarely go deep, understand the context, reflect and put theory into practice; we simply move on to the next book, podcast, or video.
The extent to which we allow society to dictate our self-worth impacts how we consume information. Why do we feel the need to even aim to read 100 books a year? Why not read just ten but put every lesson learned into action? Why are we listening to podcasts at 2x speed? What are we trying to prove, and to whom? We are all guilty of creating an illusion of knowledge, remembering some odd facts so that we can baffle people with bullshit when we inevitably fail to dazzle them with brilliance because of our lack of deep understanding. In his book, “The One World Schoolhouse,” Sal Khan provides a great take on this. Remembering random dates, names, and numbers about something without developing a proper understanding of the subject or the context isn’t knowledge; it’s trivia — and trivia is an ignorant individual’s argument of what knowledge looks like.
Living at 2x has significant consequences for us as individuals and society.
As individuals, it sucks us into a spiral where we over-index on information consumption and defer taking action. There is a never-ending feeling that we need more information before stepping into the ring. The feeling we are not ready stems from the truth that we lack a proper understanding, which is a byproduct of going at 2x and jumping from one session of information consumption to the next. It helps to remember that “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.”. Practical application of the information is part of the learning process itself.
On the societal level, it can slow down our progress and create dangerous rifts as we lose sight and the ability to separate people who are bullshiting from the real experts. As our civilization advances, the problems we face and the future we dream of creating require more profound levels of expertise. We are trying to cure cancer and travel between plants! Both of which require super-specialists. We depend on these experts, often a handful in each field, for our overall progress. We need to push further on this front by encouraging more people to go deeper in their chosen field, but the 2x culture threatens to slow down if not entirely reverse our progress on this front.
So how can one slow down?
It should be as easy as not playing the podcast at 2x speed and not setting a 100 book a year goal. But we need to dig deeper and realize that anything worthwhile takes time, and during that period, we will stumble, and people might laugh, but that is the price of actual knowledge. Putting in some mechanisms that force us to take a break and reflect can do wonders. I have personally found that a simple conversation with a friend to discuss what I just read or learned goes a long way. It can help you find gaps in your understanding and gain new perspectives. Even better if you can find a friend or peer who is an expert in that field. If what you are learning is related to work, then try and find a project where you can gain first-hand practical experience.
Next time you read a book, listen to a podcast, sift through an article on medium, or scroll through a Twitter thread, take a moment to pause and reflect; think of it as a decadent chocolate cake that must be savored. The number of books read or information consumed is not a measure of success; building or improving something is how the world will judge us in the long term and requires us to go deep rather than fast.
Death by Information Overload — Harvard Business Review
Never-Ending Now — David Perell