As the planet completes one more turn around the sun, it feels like time to reflect on something that I think about a lot: How best to spend the time we have on it.
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.
I’d like to do this, too (even though I’m already kind of shaking. Is that my left eye twitching now?)
Thanks for inspiring me as always, Frank. Happy new year to you and your beautiful family.
Thanks, Lola and Chris. That’s exactly the idea: Better thinking, better writing and hopefully better living.
i share your concern, for your mind, for my mind, for the collective mind. The loss of the ability to focus deeply poses a threat to each individual and to human beings as a species. To allow one’s mind to be constantly interrupted and invaded is to lose the ability to think coherently, to string together larger thoughts.
On a more trivial note, it seems that the most precious commodity of the writer is that ability to pay careful attention, in observation and then again in the recording and consideration of those observations. So internet-free Mondays may contribute to a more lucrative 2010.
Good for you! With the likes of Twitter, Facebook, and all other energy and time-sucking cesspools, it’s no wonder we’ve all become more anxious. Like we have to be doing something every second to stay “relevant”.
Happy Holidays and here’s to a fantastic 2010!