On Refusing To Look Things Up
Commonplace Newsletter #48
Since backing further and further away from the Internet (and Contentland specifically) I have found myself increasingly thinking about ‘the fear of missing out’. In my world at least, this so-called FOMO is (or should I tempt fate and say ‘was’) informational- I didn’t care about missing out on doing things, but I did seem to care about missing out on knowing things.
Now, this is an awful predicament to find oneself in and it is also a very common one, so it’s worthy of further discussion.
Now, I’m not one for ultra-efficiency in life- I think a lot of the actual business of living can be lost in mostly futile attempts to organise your time into precise and regimented blocks of needle-moving activity and obligations. Those diagrams of Benjamin Franklin-like daily routines where life is eked out in accounted-for 15 minute increments fill me with a specific queasy dread.
Such dividing of yourself into being both your own Taylorist foreman and you own Stakhanovite worker is a very modern way to lose your mind. Many live the unending 80 hour work week under the auspices of one day achieving the mythical 4 hour work week.
But that being said, if I were to conduct a stopwatch and clipboard toting time-and-motion study on my own life- particularly my twenties- the result would show that I spent a truly unfortunate length of time looking shit up on line.
Man, it feels good to admit that. Acknowledging a thing is the first step to overcoming it after all.
Researching Your Life Away
The truth about this looking-things-up cycle is one that is so prevalent simply because it is so creepingly insidious.
It goes like this: You have a problem or a question. You look it up on the internet. You find the names of some of the notable players in whatever the field of inquiry happens to be. You look up books on the subject. And then you look up reviews of those books, comparing Amazon write-ups to mainstream thinkpieces to blogposts and forum discussions.
Everything contradicts and you are no further along.
If the thing to look up is health-related lets say, you look up diets and workouts and find that they fall into warring ideological camps with their own lore and hagiography and propaganda and revolutions and counter-revolutions.
You are none the wiser.
You do your diligence and attempt to weigh-up opposing sides and you pick up little slogans and truisms and heuristics along the way. These intermingle with those amorphous bits of information that are imbibed via osmosis from background radios and televisions and overheard conversations on the train.
You are none the wiser.
A whirring noise: Eating fat makes you fate and high cholesterol will give you a heart attack but those studies were cherry-picked and ignored data from the bla bla bla tribe of Eskimos and besides cardio is overrated and vegetables are overrated and you have to confuse your muscles and and…
You are none the wiser. You are worse off than before.
You (and you may have gathered if you have read past articles here, that the use of ‘you’ here can almost always be read as ‘I’) are more confused and have wasted time and are weighed down with so much information, misinformation and half-information that action is virtually impossible- You have a deadly combination of zero embodied experience mixed with the epistemic arrogance of someone who has memorised a laundry list of received ideas.
The opposite of Beginners mind is not Master’s mind. It is the psuedo-intellectual, the know-it-all, the Intellectual Yet Idiot, to use Taleb's phrase.
Now, it won’t have escaped the notice of anyone even moderately observant that virtually everyone now knows all kinds of information about macronutrients and exercise routines and health living and so on but that people are collectively more obese and ill and confused and sad than perhaps ever before- at least in living memory.
Those two things are not unrelated. They are, I would argue, cause and effect as counterintuitive as that feels.
And the saddest thing of all is that upon considering this the first instinct of many is to LOOK UP WHY THIS IS THE CASE!
The Bliss of Ignorance
See, the paradox of the modern world is that the wisest people I encounter are invariably the most ignorant. Wilfully so. Those few who see- or intuit- that digging around for more information is tantamount to making the hole you are in deeper.
The only way out of the hole is to climb, is to DO.
And I know that this improvised piece is getting dangerously close to staring-at-the-camera motivational speech territory but the fact remains. The need to know everything, the need to have every single last little thing proven by some deified source or guru or movement is a problem.
(Listen, some things are worth verifying and researching. I’m just saying this impulse when applied to every little thing can have you spending your whole existence pacing endlessly back and forth at the proverbial starting line of life.)
Such need for affirmation kills the intuitive, it blocks out the serendipities that come from just having a go at something, in ignorance, like a child trying to figure out how a toy works.
Like Doctor Johnson said- and this quote is from memory, I refuse to look up specific quotes to bolster my arguments and lend my rambling discussions the credence of authority. He said:
Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must be first overcome.
And the dopamine driven desire to check the veracity of every single thought, every single question that enters your head just creates a never ending chain of potential further objections.
So refuse to look things up. Especially things that are current. I’m not saying to be a mark or a sucker and just accept things blindly. I’m saying to learn from people face to face. I’m saying to learn how to listen to your intuition and judge character and develop a real world bullshit detector away from the clickbait wielding, hot-take peddling, recency biased, opinions-for-a-living funnel of the modern internet.
I’m saying to learn, above all, to trust your own experience and let your real world experience be your teacher. If you are wrong you will find out the hard way. And if you are right then your success will be all the more rewarding.
But don’t take my word for it. Find out for yourself.
Until Next Time,
The Commonplace is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.