As a reader of this blog, you may have already gathered that I enjoy finding timeless observations of human behavior, especially by historical figures (some well-known, some not), that strike me as profoundly evident today.
The following passage, written more than 150 years ago, from Thoreau's Walden, struck me as a wonderful piece of inspiration and a potential aid in remaining conscious of one's personal information consumption and external influences, which tend to combine as a powerful source of distraction (and subtraction) from one's self-acquaintance:
We rarely meet a man who can tell us any news which he has not read in a newspaper, or been told by his neighbor; and, for the most part, the only difference between us and our fellow is that he has seen the newspaper, or been out to tea, and we have not. In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while.
The Thoreau passage points to evidence of an inverse relationship between social media interaction and self-acquaintance:
- A high relative level of "news" consumption may make one more aware of current and external events but it has equal potential to make one less aware of current and internal events -- media noise, especially in the absence of self-awareness, drowns out the sound of one's own internal dialogue.
- More knowledge of financial information does not, by default, translate into more financial success. For most, financial media increases financial anxiety, not financial prowess. Knowledge is not wisdom.
- The addition of more "friends" on MySpace might translate into the subtraction of one friend you really need -- you.
What's really "new" about the news? Try watching a newscast (especially local news) and try to find something different from the night before or even a decade prior. Since "good news" does not sell, the news is filled with tragedy, crime, despair and petty political arguments -- all of which have occurred, in some shape or form, thousands of times over the course of thousands of years. All that changes from day to day, month to month and year to year is the names and locations.
Does one really need to see and read of the same happenings occurring again and again and again?
To be fair, all news sources are not totally sensational and useless; however, the effort and time required to find something factual, unbiased and useful is generally too great and too much of a distraction and a drain on mental health to be worthwhile.
As with anything and everything, there is a balance to be found for optimal exposure to information -- the law of diminishing returns applies: At a certain point -- the point of a healthy balance -- each increment of increased exposure decreases the given item's utility. This balance differs for each person and self-knowledge is the means of discovering this balance.
The greatest source of "news you can use" is you. Have you heard from yourself lately?
Related Post: What Would Thoreau Think of Twitter?
Thoreau Image by Shannon