Emma’s Note: Emma Walsh here, managing editor of the Diary.
In our second installment of this special evening series, we delve once again into Bill’s rich archive of essays… and see what we can learn…
In today’s essay, Bill writes about how the fake world – the one that takes place in digital space – has taken over our lives, our minds, our emotions, and our world.
The constant barrage of information and ideas – much of it fake – has stifled independent thought and rational discourse.
But in this ever-changing and dangerous world, the ability to think clearly and calmly about what is going on is more important than ever…
“I just want to get these electronic things out of my life… I want to live in the 1980s.”
This message from our vagabond colleague, Tom Dyson, like the smell of warm madeleines for Proust, set off a stream of thoughts, leading to this little note.
Tom already “unplugged” by taking his ex-wife and three children on a lengthy trip around the world. [You can read all about that – and their current Great American road trip – here.] Now, he is planning to cut himself off from the electronic messages that fill up our modern world.
Urgent or Important?
Why get the electronics out of your life? There are two reasons… maybe more.
One is simple: There are only 24 hours in a day. As electronic communications and entertainment take up more and more of your time, they take over your life.
The average person with an iPhone checks it 1,585 times per day. We just made that statistic up, but you get the idea. There’s even an app that tells you how much time you spend on your iPhone… ostensibly to encourage you to reduce your iPhone use. But it’s probably just another way to draw your attention away from whatever you were doing and keep you on the phone.
We check our smartphone to see what the weather will be… what the stock market is doing… or what the latest headlines are. We check it in the elevator or on the street to avoid eye-contact with strangers. Mostly, though, we check it to see who’s trying to contact us… and what message they have for us.
Can’t it wait? Of course it can. Unless you’re an emergency heart surgeon or you have the White House’s nuclear codes in your briefcase, messages are rarely that urgent. We can’t remember ever getting a message that couldn’t have waited at least 24 hours.
We get hundreds of messages every day. Almost none of them are really important. But some are. Which ones? We don’t know until we sort through them all – paying attention, spending time… and ultimately responding to the whims, greed, and agenda of others, rather than our own.
There’s something about the immediacy… the urgency… of a phone connection that demands our attention. You almost can’t help but check… and respond. This is, of course, a classic error, elevating the urgent above the important.
And by the time you finish checking your phone and responding to all the “urgent” messages, pictures of kittens, smiley faces, YouTube sequences, and other unnecessary noise… guess what? You have no time left for the important things. You’ve even forgotten to say “Good morning” to your wife… and missed your granddaughter’s birthday party.
In fact, most often… in all the commotion, you’ve entirely forgotten what was important anyway.
Which is another reason to get the electronics out of your life. Not only do they take your time… they also eat away at your brain.
One headline tells you something Mr. Trump has done… as if it were the most serious mistake ever made by a U.S. president. Another tells you that California is about to be consumed by forest fires. Still another tells you that neither of those things matter; instead, the important thing is that the sea level is rising.
One headline after another. One message followed by another.
A recent study tells us that the typical American receives 5,200 pieces of “information” per day. We made that statistic up, too, but it’s something like that.
And what does it matter? What’s one more piece of fake “information,” more or less?
Yes, that’s right. Much of the “information” you receive is fraudulent, foolish, or just plain wrong. Only some of it is true.
But how do you know which is which? Again, it takes time.
Real truth. Fake truth. Kinda, partial, virtual truth. With so much of it coming at you, you can’t possibly take the time to know how much truthiness is in each bit.
And yet, each little fragment takes time to receive and process. Then, it is stored somewhere in your brain, like an old pair of boots you put up in the attic. You may never think of it again. But it is still there somewhere, taking up space.
And your brain space – while remarkably elastic – is not infinite. In order to make space for the old boots, you might have tossed out your grandmother’s diary and forgotten your phone number.
A Tight Grip
Not only do electronic messages capture your attention and devour your time, they also take over your emotional life. Little by little, you come to care about people you’ve never met… battles you will never fight… and issues that don’t really matter.
The next thing you know, you will find yourself not just a spectator ogling the online circus, but an actor… another clown… voicing an opinion, taking polls, leaving comments, and joining “chat” groups.
Then, you are practically beyond hope. The internet has gotten a tighter grip on you than heroin on a dope addict. That world – the fake one that takes place in digital space – has become your world. That is where you live… where your time – your physical life (sitting in front of a smartphone or computer screen) – and your emotional life, too, will be spent.
Twenty years ago, the “Information Age” offered to make us all rich. Information would flow like water on the internet – freely, irrigating minds all over the planet, and bringing forth such a fulsome crop of invention and innovation that it would take our breath away.
That was the promise. A Niagara of information would splash over us… drowning errors… washing away sin… and cleansing the world of ignorance. Now, we’d all have access to the very best information in the world. We could all build nuclear reactors, if we wanted.
And we’d know, too, the correct attitude towards third-trimester abortions or presidential pardons. And if we ever felt the urge to invade Russia in the wintertime, we could call up a translation of General Caulaincourt’s mémoire and see how that turned out for Napoléon.
Too bad Bonaparte didn’t have the worldwide web at his fingertips. He could have googled “How to get out of Russia – fast.”
When that yielded no help, he might have considered air support. Yes, it’s all there… just a google search away – the explanation of how partial vacuums provide lift… the design of the modern airplane… a detailed description of how a jet engine works… even how to make bombs that could be unloaded on the Cossacks.
Wow! Then, Napoléon could have taught those Russkies a lesson. He could have called in air strikes… what a devastating effect that would have had!
All he needed was aluminum… precision tools and machinists… quality steel… refined airplane fuel… and a few decades to master the necessary skills.
But he had none of those things. And the information provided would not have helped in the least. Instead, it would have hindered him – he would have wasted precious time and brainpower on information that was irrelevant.
Besides, how much information do you need? How much can you use?
An old friend wrote recently with a further insight:
Remember Albert Jay Nock’s essay, Dining in the Motor Age? In the early 1920s, before most highways were even paved, Nock foresaw that an increase in the speed of travel doomed old-fashioned restaurants that served well-made meals to travelers.
In his classic prophecy of the degeneration of the art of public cooking, Nock foresaw a new type of restaurant catering “to people who come along from God knows where in motor cars, eager to snatch a bite of anything, and push on.”
Nock continued, “For the most part, they would eat raw dog without knowing the difference.”
He attributed a large measure of this effect to the automobile, which had so accelerated the pace of life that people no longer had the patience to wait for a well-made meal.
Nock seems to have anticipated the rise of McDonald’s.
He had a hunch about the Information Age, too. Here’s our old friend again:
He [Nock] also suggested that processing ideas was a lot like eating. “The mind is like the stomach. It is not how much you put into it that counts, but how much it digests – if you try to feed it with a shovel, you get bad results.”
The avalanche of information pouring in to the overwhelmed mind of the average schmo may drive him to the McDonald’s of the mind. Superficial analyses that could be the intellectual equivalent of raw dog, but seem relatively tasty because they can be swallowed without wasting a lot of time.
Perhaps a consequence of the Information Age is that serious thought is being swept away in the flow of data like a car in a desert flash-flood
Not only do you need to get information – what you need, when you need it – you also need time to digest it. The electronic media makes it almost impossible. As soon as you have gotten one idea, you’re fed a dozen more. And soon, you are sick of them all.
Fast Food for the Mind
More important, while you’re being stuffed like a Christmas goose, you have no time to think clearly… and no reliable ideas and information to think with. All you have is empty calories… fast-food for the mind.
Our hunch is that you’re going to need something more than that in the years ahead. A huge crisis – caused by fake money and fake thinking – is coming. You’ll need real thinking to get through it. In this fast-moving, highly charged, and dangerous setting, you will need the ability to think clearly and calmly about what is going on.
You won’t be able to do that if you have been captured by the mind-bending memes of the public media.
Which is why turning off and tuning out is our No. 1 recommendation.
So, turn off the TV. Turn off the internet. Read a local newspaper… but with much cynicism and doubt.
Editor’s Note: Emma Walsh, Bill’s managing editor, here again. As Bill says, every day, our minds are being bombarded with unimportant information. Thanks to our over-reliance on technology, they’re overloaded. To the point where society is finding it difficult to think clearly.
And the ability to think clearly isn’t the only thing we’ll need to survive the crisis Bill sees coming down the pike, as a result of the feds’ loony policies and continuous money-printing. Read on here to find out about the one big opportunity you have to safeguard your wealth…