The Vast Information Pool
Updated: Jul 15, 2022
Many of us have moved to the shallow end of the information pool to avoid drowning due to the sheer volume of data we’re faced with each day. But that form of consumption may not lead to lasting knowledge.
Tim Ferris recently posted a quote by Gabor Mate’ – “The road to hell is not paved with good intentions. It is paved with lack of intention.” This caught my attention because I’ve been noticing lately how many truly moving books I’ve read over the years and how many I’ve completely forgotten about. Gabor Mate’s book, “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” moved me enough over 10 years ago that I attended a lecture he gave here in Los Angeles and added the book about his approach to addiction recovery in our Work2Live book club list.
And yet, I had completely forgotten about it until I read the Tim Ferris post. I perused my bookshelves to see what else I had forgotten about and it’s kind of shocking. Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Pietro Ferrucci, Carl Rogers. It seems like eons ago that I studied these masters and more for hours a day. Now, I’m racing through two books a week to keep up with upcoming interviews and many are wonderful books, but it feels like a luxury I can’t afford, to take my time, soak it in, allow it to percolate.
I cleared out the perpetual stacks of paper in my office over the holiday weekend in my never-ending quest to be a paperless organization and came across a lot of notes I’d taken during courses and seminars over the past year. I could barely remember attending them. As I tried to decipher my scribbles, I had to sit and really think back in order to capture the experience of attending and what information I had gleaned.
Has work that moved me to completely change my life been stored away in some dusty corner of my mind as new information has been relegated to scribbles on paper? I can’t say I didn’t feel somewhat concerned about my state of mind. Although I briefly considered early dementia, I don’t think that’s the problem. The problem is that there is so much information available to us at our fingertips that we can’t possibly keep up. And our lives are so over-filled with activities, tasks, obligations and deadlines that we have to constantly shove information out of current consciousness to even begin to keep up with what’s happening today. There’s not much room for reflection and recollection. That is, unless we make room.
I feel like I received a wake-up call to evaluate the balance between learning and doing. Between doing and being. As much as I love learning, I can’t be a monk in the wilderness, so a balance is required. I have to use the knowledge I gain for something meaningful, to live up to my purpose. But I seem to have tipped the scale over to doing something with the knowledge to the point that I’ve lost the connection to acquiring and integrating new knowledge. Or I’m using new knowledge without being fully immersed in it or completely up to speed.
I returned to the old masters sitting on my bookshelves. In fact, I spent quality time learning their philosophies, theories and perspectives and embodied them, so although I may not consciously remember until someone nudges me, I’m living what they taught me. That’s not the same thing as forgetting what they taught. But in the past few years, I’m not exerting that same level of commitment to what I read or what I spend time on in courses or seminars in the same way. Part of me is devouring information in order to meet the demands of so many human needs, including my own. In contemplating this, I guess it’s the difference between sitting down to enjoy a multiple course meal versus grabbing fast food and eating it in the car while I’m driving to the next thing, whatever it may be.
I’m clearly sacrificing quality over quantity, and I didn’t even realize it because it’s been a slow slide. Think about yourself for a moment. Are you rushing through information that may have been valuable to you in the past? Do you scan emails instead of completely reading them? Do you look for information in sound bites instead of full articles or news stories? I just read the results of a poll that showed eight out of ten Americans share or react to headlines before reading the story or watching the full video online. Surprisingly, those who took the time to move beyond the headlines changed their mind about the topic 90% of the time.
Think about what that might mean when it comes to the great political divides occurring in the world today. If we’re not taking the time to understand the issues on a much deeper level than a 30 second ad, a bold print headline or a tweet, how can we possibly ever come to an understanding of each other or be able to reach a compromise?
Our transition from the deep end to the shallow end of the information pool could have a significant impact on our own lives as well as others. We may not only be getting an inaccurate picture for ourselves but sharing that misinformation with others all before we’ve even taken the time to understand what we’re looking at. We’re rapidly reacting to partially scanned emails in an effort to save time without recognizing how we’re obliterating communication that could have long-reaching effects in our relationships with family, friends, peers, staff and leaders.
Striving for maximum information quantity over quality every day is mindless. It pulls us away from our purpose, reduces meaning in our activities and over-taxes our brains that are trying to make sense of massive amounts of information with just a portion of the content. We need to treat information just as mindfully as we treat other people in our lives. When I’m interacting with someone else, I’m mindful. I’m focused on what they’re saying. I’m not thinking about what I have to do as soon as the conversation is over, but simply focused on what the other person is communicating. I see now that I am not staying mindful when it comes to consuming information.
It can be difficult to consider opposing views. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions over the past couple of weeks have many Americans reeling. But do any of us really understand the long-term ramifications of these decisions or are we simply reacting to sound bites and tweets? Headlines scream that this is the dismantling of democracy. Is that true? I don’t know because I haven’t made the time to really study the issues. And that’s the crux of the problem. I don’t make the time to delve into it because it feels awful and scary and stressful. As humans, we avoid such things.
But mindfulness and meditation provide us with a practice to sit with discomfort. It helps us to put a little space between the big uncomfortable emotions and who we really are. We begin to recognize that we are not our thoughts and emotions and that we can respond calmly to distressing situations through that understanding. Instead of instantaneously reacting in anger over abortion, gun violence, religion, pollution or immigration, we can consciously choose an issue and research both sides of the argument. We may not change our minds after doing so, but perhaps we can gain a broader perspective that could help us have more understanding of that “other side” so that we can have actual conversations about it.
Mindfulness is by no means a fix to any of these problems. Mindfulness does provide us a path to achieving greater clarity and calmness which better enables us to solve problems. It also strengthens our compassion toward ourselves as we go through the discomfort of taking a deep look at the issues we face, as well as toward others which can help heal the hurt that is the cause of suffering for so many people.
I did a check-in regarding my email account this morning. When I boot up my computer, usually by 5am, there are already at least 25 new emails waiting for me. News feeds, podcast industry newsletters, mindfulness newsletters and a scattering of psychology, university and leadership articles and blogs. That’s all before my day even technically begins. I probably get another 150 emails throughout the day which I try to clear out before bedtime, only to start all over at dawn the next day. Now if all I had to do all day was consume information, it could be manageable, but I’ve got lots and lots of actual work to do.
It's clearly time for me to reset my intentions when it comes to knowledge and information. No more news feeds. If I want to know about an issue, it’s time to research the issue in depth, not scan the emailed headlines. I don’t really use social media and I’m already religious about unsubscribing to sites I don’t need, blocking advertisers and reporting spam to keep the volume down, but it’s still way too much information.
The newsletters, blogs and articles I receive are almost all really important to my work, but I’ve decided to automatically forward them to a folder to save. I just can’t keep consuming this much information on a daily basis because my brain can’t process it all. When I start to create a workshop or write a podcast and need information, I can search those folders, but in an effort to shift back into quality, I’ve got to reduce the daily quantity.
Consider how you get your information and more importantly, how you consume it. If it’s mostly from quickly scanning news and social media, are you getting the full picture? If it’s all from one source, are you even aware of other perspectives? Do you have enough knowledge to make informed decisions or are you just mindlessly reacting? Perhaps it’s time to set an intention to make room for getting out of the shallow end of the information pool and spending a little more time in the deep end. Remember, really understanding an issue doesn’t mean you have to change your mind, but perhaps if we all spent a little more time mindfully considering issues on a deeper level, we could start to bridge the divide and work together to make things at least a little better.
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