Alain de Botton says we all need to take in less information, because learning more paradoxically reduces our capacity to know more. Excerpt:
The obsession with current events is relentless. We are made to feel that at any point, somewhere on the globe, something may occur to sweep away old certainties–something that, if we failed to learn about it instantaneously, could leave us wholly unable to comprehend ourselves or our fellows. We are continuously challenged to discover new works of culture–and, in the process, we don’t allow any one of them to assume a weight in our minds. We leave a movie theater vowing to reconsider our lives in the light of a film’s values. Yet by the following evening, our experience is well on the way to dissolution, like so much of what once impressed us: the ruins of Ephesus, the view from Mount Sinai, the feelings after finishing Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilyich.
Interesting observation: “we don’t allow any one of them to assume a weight in our minds.” I don’t think I’ve ever quite thought of it that way, but it’s true. I am a voracious reader, but nobody can read as much or as fast as I do and can say that he’s allowed the material to assume a weight in his mind. I see that I consume (I choose that word deliberately) great gobs of information, when what I ought to be doing is behaving with more discernment with what I read, and allowing myself time to “digest” what I’ve read, so to speak. The way it is with me, I’ll read a book that knocks my socks off, think about it maybe for a week, blog about it … then I’m off to the next thing. And there’s always a truly interesting Next Thing, vying for attention. When it comes to taking in information, I am a gourmand, not a gourmet. De Botton’s brief remarks make me realize that I should slow down, that information is not the same thing as knowledge, and that knowledge is not simply a matter of input, but of processing — and that takes time to do right.
But I’m not going to do it. I wouldn’t know how. Seriously. This is a problem, one that reminds me of the realization I had one day that even though I’ve traveled far, far more widely than my father, he arguably knows more about the world as it is from having lived in one small place all his life, and having gotten to know it intimately.