Information Toxicosis (Part 1)

If any of you know me, you probably know that I am an anti-hoarder of things.

Well perhaps that’s not quite right. To say it more honestly, I am attracted to gadgets and shiny new toys like any of us, but I have no problem mercilessly culling through / giving away / selling / burning my excess possessions on a periodic basis. In fact, this intermittent minimal-izing gives me great satisfaction, and feels exciting. So in that regard, I am probably fortunate to be wired the way I am.

But in other respects, my wiring can be debilitating.

For instance, I am insatiably curious about the world. When I encounter new subjects that pique my interest, my visceral reaction is to actually feel like I want to EAT the thing. I’m not sure if I mean literally putting the new topic in my mouth, but the imagery is very nearly accurate. My curiosity and desire to know makes me hopelessly impatient, impetuous even. I want to ingest the relevant ideas all at once, digest them, internalize them, make those ideas a part of my consciousness. I want to do this and I can’t help it. I discover another one of these like, every week or two.

Curiosity is usually described as a good character trait, and it has served me well most of the time. But the age of information technology, and the web in particular, have transformed this asset into a liability.

The internet has found ways of making me its slave.

When I discover a new blogger who writes stuff that stirs me, I use feedly to keep myself subscribed to their content, so I can continue exploring their mind. When I find an article or interesting treatise to read, but don’t have time to finish it right then, I’ll add it to my Pocket. When I find an author whose writing stirs me, I’ll find their most poignant works and add them to my Amazon Wish List. When I find a subject complex enough that I want a deep-dive guided tour through it, I’ll buy or save a course from Udemy or Coursera on that topic. Lately I’ve even succumbed to YouTube, subscribing to a few content channels that consistently cover topics of interest to me.

And none of this list even covers the free, unstructured browsing that I do all the time: checking backpacking forums and product reviews, seeing what other people are thinking about and sharing on Facebook, gorging myself on totally random corners of Wikipedia, reading world news, and so forth. I mean come on, how do you think I discover all these things in the first place? They don’t just drop into my lap. I go find them.

So what I’m saying is, while am not a hoarder of things, I have definitely become a hoarder of information.

In me, the internet found a willing host for its favorite neurosis.

For those who are naive and unafflicted by this condition, you may have made a mistaken inference from the list above. You may think that I exercise great discipline in actually making the time to consume all the useful information that I’ve accumulated. But now is the time that we all laugh together, and by “we” I mean myself and the rest of you that suffer from the same disease. God, I am not even close. Let’s look at how I’ve done.

Here is the current scope of the damage — the items awaiting my consumption:
  • Feedly: 35 blog posts
  • Pocket: 21 pages-worth of list-view ≈ about 210 articles
  • Udemy: 12 full courses ≈ God knows how many hours
  • Amazon Wish List: 56 books ≈ 14,000 pgs ≈ 3.8 million words

I’m sure there are other parts of my cache that I’m leaving out of this list, but we are already clearly into the Realm of Ridiculous.


Know what else is ridiculous? Does anyone remember what the original name for Pocket was? It was called “Read It Later“.

That is totally hilarious, right? When exactly is “later“? How am I supposed to find time to read all the stuff I’ve saved, when I’m so busy discovering new content?

And here at last we manage to strike near the heart of the problem. Why am I so intent on discovering new content? Is it a form of keeping up?

I think it is.

Somehow I have wandered into a grand lie, which says “If you simply discover and consume all the cool information, you will be smart, cool, and make good decisions for life.” It is a straightforward seduction. I have totally taken the bait.

EDIT: I’ve thought more about this and decided it’s not quite about “keeping up” or whatever I first wrote. It’s something else. Check out part 2 for further analysis.


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