Low Information Diet

I’ve heard plenty of people saying that knowledge is power — myself included. It’s astonishing what can be achieved nowadays with a simple Internet connection. No question stays unanswered and, as long as you put time into it, you will find answers. For that I’m grateful, I truly am. I learned so much by digesting different media, to the point where I always have something to say about all subjects I love. For someone who was always labeled as knowledgeable, it’s quite reassuring. Reaching that point, however, is no easy task, specially if your mind does not, or better can not, find when or where to stop. As anything in life you gotta put a lot of yourself into it and hope that your efforts will payoff in the end. When it comes to what supports all I want to achieve in life, hooray, it is so worth it. More and more, however, I’ve been noticing how easy it is for my mind to drift to the mundane, to the useless.

More and more I’ve been noticing how easy it is for my mind to drift to the mundane, to the useless.

Somehow, among the unstoppable waves of information that come through my screen(s) and earphones I am losing the sense of what should I be investing my time into. We are all presented with tidal wave after tidal wave of NPR, YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter and BuzzFeed that whatever relevant, truly useful piece of information gets lost or buried in the midst of show reruns, talent shows, 10 best whatever articles and compulsive social media updates — we all have heard of FOMO. By the way, I understand this is not news. Enough articles pointed out how common this behavior is in our generation and how most of us are addicts, yadda yadda yadda. I would like to state here that I am an addict, though. And so most people around me are. And so most of my generation is.

As any addiction, the need for stimuli creeps into every gap of my life, to the point that not consuming information makes me feel anxious. What comes next is me re-watching old series and movies, re-listening to old podcasts, just so I can find solace, comfort. Again, we are talking about addiction. Small rewards so one can just get by. Little bursts of joy, so that life can become more bearable. Let me here clarify that I am intentionally depicting all of this from a rather dark viewpoint. I think it is important to see this behavior from a gloom perspective, because, even if unaware, I believe we are all severely affected by it in one way or another.

My biggest issue, though, is how that is affecting one particular aspect of me, something I do for a living: thinking. I am having a hard time contemplating my existence, my problems, my joys and my sorrows because I have no time to think about all of that. Here comes the irony of this situation, however: I am actually thinking all the time. Not about what matters, though. I have curbed, twisted my curious mind by a desire to solve problems that don’t need to be solved, by looking for answers of questions that don’t need to be answered, by filling information gaps that don’t need to be filled. It makes very little difference in my life to know how old is Julie Andrews — 80 years old by the way, you’re welcome — and yet I will waste my time with this or another useless piece of trivia. This is not to mention countless 9gag memes, Cracked articles, Jimmy Fallon interviews (Conan, I still adore you), etc. All so that I can have a momentary relief knowing that I checked all those imaginary boxes that keep being erased.

There is a name for how such disposable content is so widely available, called Distraction Economy. Derek Muller, a science communicator I admire very much, has a channel called Veritasium, which is as far from disposable content as anything can be. In his channel, he posted recently a video talking about the dangers of not being able to contemplate life and, honestly, of just not allowing yourself to not think. Truth is, that is exactly how I feel: I am tired of thinking. Thinking about what doesn’t matter, that is. And yes, I understand how meta it seems to talk about reducing one’s information consumption while recommending a YouTube video. Trust me, the irony is not lost on me.

Truth is, that is exactly how I feel: I am tired of thinking. Thinking about what doesn’t matter, that is.

The main point here is that I agree with him in many aspects and I will embrace the Low Information diet. Not sure exactly how will that turn out, but I am committed to let go of most of the Internet for a while. I need to start thinking again about what matters in my life and, more than that, I need to re-learn that not consuming any media is OK (F*** you, anxiety!). I am not going to radically cut all ties, though. I believe that to be naive at best. While I will say bye bye to meme factories, clickbait, list based websites and, yes, Pokemon Go, I will still keep checking social media, but sparsely. I can’t wait to be alone with my own thoughts. I’ve always talked (out loud) with myself, but that slowly shifted to inner monologues. It’s been a while since I had a full on argument with myself, maybe it’s time.

Now, on a final interesting (and hopefully relevant) note, I just wanna briefly talk about environment and addiction. I am quite social and while outside with other people I feel no need to be on social media or to check the latest trendy memes. Where you are and how your environment contributes to a particular behavior, thus, needs to be taken into account. It’s a quite simplistic assumption, but it has an interesting scientific base behind it. Rat Park was a drug addiction experiment conducted in the late 1970s by Canadian Psychologist Bruce K. Alexander. He had an interesting hypothesis: despite the chemical factor, drugs themselves do not contribute to addiction as much as the environment the addict is in. In a Nut Shell (yet another YouTube channel) made a remarkable video talking about this experiment.

The experiments found that caged rats, whose only pleasure would come from two drop dispensers, one with water and another with a morphine solution, would heavily prefer morphine. In Rat Park, however, where not only the rats would have plenty of companions, male and female, but also several other options of entertainment, the rats resisted the morphine solution over plain water. In the end, when it comes to addiction, it’s not about the drug itself, it’s about your cage. What to do, however, when your cage cannot be easily changed? What if you depend on your cage to be productive, to be informed about the world around you? How do you break out of this cage then? Time to think about how to break out of mine.