Mental Obesity

There is a lot of information and as restaurants have turned nutrition into entertainment, platforms such as TED, Blinkist, and most news agencies, have turned information into entertainment so that it can be consumed.

However, like any non-athlete will know, too much food results in fat buildup…and this is not innocent. Heart disease from obesity is one of the biggest problems in western societies. Similarly, these information snacks, are not actually making us better — they make us slower.

I would like to argue that these knowledge snack services have played a major part in paving the way towards a culture of hoaxes and misinformation. While TED is interesting knowledge by experts in their field, it creates a mistaken assumption that you can understand someone’s 20 years of research in 15 minutes, making people feel confident that they can judge the validity of vaccines without ever having had an education in biology, let alone medicine and immunology.

You cannot become an expert by subscribing to Blinkist…you can just have interesting dinner conversation. And when we conflate knowledge with dinner conversation, there is really no value differential between QAnon and rigorous research. In fact, QAnon is probably way more interesting and therefore more valuable to the person whose use of knowledge is just interesting conversation.

Too much information

What we need is practice and depth of expertise. Instead of swimming in the shallow end, we need people to go deep. Read the 600 page book, if nothing else it gives you concentration, patience, and the ability to finish something that drags on for weeks (if you are one of those people who can read 600 page books over a weekend and retain it all…then I hope you are not wasting your time reading my dribble).

When you read a 600 page book you are developing a skill and your mind understands subtlety, nuance, and the reality that things are complex. Marchall McLuhan has expressed a half century ago that the rate of communication is impacting our ability to have the type of discourse that we need to have. When you get a 15 minute summary you don’t really build the ability to disagree with parts of an author’s argument, to have slightly different opinions on particular conclusions, while still loving the work and the idea that author is conveying. Twitter arguments between two people who have consumed a few Blinkist summaries is meaningless — it is the intellectual equivalent of heart disease.

My suggestion is that we don’t get caught up in the information wars. Slow down, read big books, slowly, and count not how many books you have read, but rather how many thoughts you have formed.

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