It’s something that was driven home by a line I came across in the book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experiences, which notes that in 70 years of life we can take in about 185 billion bits of information. That information, in turn, makes up our consciousness.
“It is out of this total that everything in our life must come–every thought, memory, feeling, or action,“ writes, Mihaly Csikszentmihahyi, “It seems like a huge amount, but in reality it does not go that far….an individual can experience only so much. Therefore, the information we allow into consciousness becomes extremely important; It is, in fact, what determines the content and the quality of our life.”
For the last few years, I have been allowing a torrent of information into my mind, mostly via the Internet. Much of it good, and much of it important. But at some point you have to choose. I’m nearing 40 and according to Csikszentmihahyi, I have less than 90 billion bits left, and I have wasted too many already.
The internet is a powerful tool, but sometimes I feel like it is hungry for my mind, and up till now, I have been giving it too much, doing too many things online that up add up to nothing. As a result, I’ve had this gnawing unease, like I was sliding down some scree slope of trivia, like my mind was a balloon with a million tiny holes. Until reading that passage, I didn’t know exactly why.
So in a small but significant gesture–a finger in the dike–I’ll be spending each Monday this year offline. There is plenty of other work to be done (that used to be all we did!) and if there is anything urgent, there is a jurassic piece of technology on my desk called the telephone.
As far as I can see, this may be the only way to wrest back some control over the content and the quality of my life, and over my mind. This year, I want to remember how to lose myself in things again. I want to regain the focus that has carried me so far. And I don’t want to waste time on distractions, because I have too many things that I haven’t done yet.
So with that, I wish you all the best in the new year.
See you on Tuesdays.