Charlie's Blog: Low Information Diet

1.16.2016

Low Information Diet


There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant.
RALPH WALDO EMERSON

There is a scene in The Razor's Edge where Bill Murray is on a very cold mountainside with his many books. He is shivering and freezing in front of a small fire when the fire burns out. In an epiphany, Murray starts burning his books, and this acts brings enlightenment to him. I think about this scene often when I contemplate going on a low information diet.

Tim Ferriss deserves the most credit for popularizing the concept of a low information diet. Basically, you decide to stop following the news and other streams of information that add little to nothing to your life. I have written about this topic before in various posts, and the reason I struggle with it is because I am an information addict. This is the curse of the internet, and I am grateful that I do not own a smartphone to exacerbate the problem. The smartphone is the technological hip flask for today's information junkie.


Despite my continuous struggle with this problem, I do have one success in the battle. I am someone who was deeply involved with Facebook, and I quit that thing. To this day, I am proud of that accomplishment. I can honestly say that my life got better as a consequence of getting off of that infernal platform. Now, I am trying to quit Twitter. If Facebook is heroin, Twitter is cocaine. It's not as addictive, but it is still problematic.

The reason social media is so addictive is because it is an endless supply of very interesting but useless information. Social media sucks time and focus into a vortex of gossip and cat pictures. Twitter is more respectable than Facebook because journalists use it so much. But both platforms provide very little information that you need to know.

I am a big fan of edited aggregators. For instance, the Drudge Report is an edited aggregator. Instapundit is another one. Basically, these people read the news and filter out what they consider most relevant and important. My personal favorite is Google News. Sites like these actually save you time instead of wasting it. I spend about 10 to 15 minutes with Google News in the evening, and I am done with the news.

Social media acts as a filter and editor, but it does it in a different way. A site like Google News merely separates the kernel from the husk. Facebook and Twitter take those kernels and ferment them into hard liquor which is distilled into a purer and more addictive form. That is the key. Filtering and distillation are not the same things. Filtering removes the extraneous. Distillation also removes the extraneous but concentrates the interesting into greater and more potent quantities. All addiction comes from this concentration of substances. The coca leaf is a mild stimulant on par with espresso, but cocaine extracted from the coca leaf is one of the most addictive drugs on the planet.

I am someone who used to like drinking whiskey, but I found myself developing some alcoholic tendencies. My response was to become a teetotaller which works but means missing out on alcohol's favorable attributes such as relaxation and sociability. What I know is that I can drink beer in moderation but not whiskey. Likewise, I am fine with the internet when it is just email, Google News, and Feedly. But Twitter is my information Jim Beam. So, I am attempting to quit Twitter AGAIN.


I think I will be successful this time because I always learn something from previous failures. It took me a few tries to quit Facebook. But I have learned something about information in the process which is to see that information is not egalitarian. You really are better off not knowing some things. There are benefits to adhering to a low information diet.

What I have noticed about being free of a smartphone and Facebook is that most of the people around me are divorced from reality. It's like the story of the guy running on a beach with his headphones who never heard the plane that crash landed on him killing him. The pilot could not fathom why the guy just didn't run a few feet to the left or right. That guy totally missed the most vital information he needed in his life which was the approach of that plane. Likewise, stories now abound of people crashing their crashes or walking in front of buses because of their absorption in their smartphones. Distracted driving has now overtaken drunk driving as a leading cause of traffic accidents and fatalities.

The reason drugs and alcohol have such bad reputations is because of their ability to divorce us from reality. How are social media and smartphones any different? At least the drunk at the bar can have a conversation with you. The smartphone zombie cannot. I have already had social occasions ruined by smartphone addicts who can't put the devices down. Dinner with friends and family is now a waste of time.


Being free from this endless distraction is like a breath of fresh air. The thing you have to get over is the nagging feeling that you are missing something important. Just remember one thing. The really important stuff gets known whether you like it or not. I stopped following sports years ago, but I know that Alabama just won the championship. I will now promptly forget it. You just have to get used to being deliberately ignorant of some things. Some things aren't worth knowing.

I am going to win this battle. It is worth fighting. There is more to life than a screen.