Technologist Rachel Coldicutt of whom I follow on Twitter recently shared a very interesting article on the quandary of being amidst information overload and the whole question of participation amongst it all. This is definitely a question that I have been contemplating for quite a while. Some back story to accompany: I hardly ever visited any news website these days, so I get almost all the breaking news from Twitter (I know, I know, it’s not a good practice) to the point that my opinions have been shaped tremendously by the opinions of the people I follow, interacted with, and exposed to on Twitter. I live within this bubble, that is as much I can admit.
This scenario is definitely something I am familiar with:
We marinate in the news. We may be familiar with the headlines before we have exchanged a word with another human in the morning; we kill time on the bus or in queues by checking Twitter, only to find ourselves plunged into the dramas of presidential politics or humanitarian emergencies. By one estimate, 70% of us take our news-delivery devices to bed with us at night.
In recent years, there has been enormous concern about the time we spend on our web-connected devices and what that might be doing to our brains. But a related psychological shift has gone largely unremarked: the way that, for a certain segment of the population, the news has come to fill up more and more time – and, more subtly, to occupy centre stage in our subjective sense of reality, so that the world of national politics and international crises can feel more important, even more truly real, than the concrete immediacy of our families, neighbourhoods and workplaces. It’s not simply that we spend too many hours glued to screens. It’s that for some of us, at least, they have altered our way of being in the world such that the news is no longer one aspect of the backdrop to our lives, but the main drama. The way that journalists and television producers have always experienced the news is now the way millions of others experience it, too.
And the same notion is also mentioned in this article:
Obligation breeds habit and habit addiction. The most active Twitter users I know check the platform as soon as they wake up to see what they missed. Throughout the day, they seize on the little interstices of time they have available to them — on the way to work, or in between meetings—to follow each new development in that day’s controversies. Even in the evening, when they are settling down to dinner, they cheer attacks against their enemies, or quietly fume over the mean tweet some anonymous user sent their way. Minutes before they finally drift off to sleep, they check their notifications one last time.
Rachel continued on in the thread saying that she’s “that some ways of paying attention are better than others. “Time well spent” is too close to the idea that individual productive flow is nirvana, rather than, say, psychological safety, escapism, idle curiosity, relaxed time with loved ones, etc.”, quoting that “the problem is with discernment rather than attention”, citing a passage from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes’ A Study In Scarlet as a guide to intellectual konmari (also perhaps the start to what Holmes would call a mind palace method of his, of which I am very intrigued of):
“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”
I also think a lot of how these days it’s virtually impossible to let my mind wander and let my senses just take in the scene. Cultivating receptive awareness is definitely something I need to work on.