Information Toxicosis (part 2)

For context, you’ll want to read part 1 if you haven’t already.

So the question is … Why???

Why am I constantly seeking out new information when I have a backlog that would already take me the better part of a year to consume?
Do I think my life is enriched by this constant consumption and seeking of new stimulus?

Still at work on these questions, but I think they’re the right questions to ask.

I have at least one good answer today: I think my search and consumption patterns point to my insecurities about life.

… and I daresay the same might be true for you. Let’s take a look at what I mean. What I’ve done below is summarized the most consistent topics in my consumption habits. These are the subjects that I continually return to, subscribe to, share with friends, and share on Facebook:

  1. Essays on Jesus, faith, or culture, typically counter-conservative or altogether counter-cultural, written by Christians who are either progressive or apolitical.
  2. Essays from a cultural or sociological perspective that look at various traits of western life — loneliness, disconnection, rugged individualism, etc. — and compare / contrast them with traits we recognize in other cultures, or with our purported hunter-gatherer past.
  3. Blogs on reducing or rejecting busyness; on minimalist life tendencies; on reducing consumption; reducing waste; reducing possessions; reducing footprint.
  4. Blogs on personal money management; on creative ways to solve the most common household or budget challenges; on how to utilize friends, free services, and community in order to avoid wasting resources; on how to invest well and put money to work wisely.
  5. Articles on business leadership, entrepreneurship, innovation, and tech startups.
  6. Articles on body and particularly joint health, ergonomics and posture, improving mobility and range of motion, and building strength and flexibility in places that are usually lacking in middle class western life.
  7. Blogs on quick, innovative food preparation; on how to cook once a week or once a month using freezer meals; on how to construct healthy, tasty, affordable meals that can be prepared in only one or two vessels, one crock pot, etc. etc.

 

I have to admit I’m a little shocked, after compiling this lineup, by how little breadth there is in my typical reading habits. The list above probably accounts for 80-90% of what I consume on the web. And these topics are mirrored in the books that I read. Right now I am reading The Myth of a Christian Nation and Becoming a Supple Leopard and The World Until Yesterday. Yep. Like clockwork.

But the more interesting thing is what these trends mean

As soon as I saw my list, I knew that these topics are a perfect reflection of my insecurities about life, as it is right now. Note that I am not saying that the only reason I consume this stuff is because I am insecure. Certainly there is worthwhile content here by any standard, and my reading is as much motivated by interest as it is by fear. But, the incisiveness remains. These topics clearly point to areas where I am afraid of how my life is going.

Let’s take a look at my list again and I’ll show you what I mean:

  1. Counter-conservative Jesus: Reading these convinces me that I am not stagnant in my faith journey, that I am still discovering more of God and growing; sharing these on Facebook makes me feel like I am not one of those crazy fundamentalist bubble Christians, and by the way you should hang out with me and think I’m cool, because I’m progressive and relevant.
  2. Society and western culture: Reading these draws my attention to the ways that my own heart has been changing in the last ~5 years, as I have transitioned out of a transient, unbounded, communal lifestyle, into a 9-to-5, individuated, married, settled lifestyle; sharing these articles on Facebook makes me feel like I am not doomed to just grow up and be a normal middle class American who substitutes connection for entertainment and toys.
  3. Reducing busyness, and minimalism: Reading these reminds me to feel satisfied with all the things I already have that I don’t need, all the things that I do on a daily basis which are not necessary to life or even to happiness, and challenge me to throttle back on consumption of material goods; sharing these on Facebook make me feel like I am a minimalist, and that I am not being sucked into the American Buy-Now Vortex of Despair, and that I am challenging my friends to do the same and not give into the alluring hamster-wheel dream that we all know so well.
  4. Money management and budget: Reading these does something similar as described above, but focuses more tightly on this very quantifiable resource with which I’ve been entrusted — money; reading these remind me of how insanely rich I am compared to the majority of all humans both alive and dead, and this awareness makes me feel like I am more alive and awake than the average middle class American; sharing these on Facebook makes me feel like I am winning the battle against never-ending consumption, and that we are containing our desires and spending habits and preventing our lifestyle from gradually inflating along with our income — which I think is negligent, if not patently evil.
  5. Business leadership and entrepreneurship: Reading these reminds me of what’s possible in the startup world, and gives me hope that I could work for myself and chase my own dream one day; sharing these on Facebook makes me feel like this hope is still possible and attainable, and maybe someone will want to help me chase a dream someday.
  6. Joint health and mobility: Reading these gives me tools to avoid the inevitable degradation of my body that comes through simple aging and more dramatically through working a desk job everyday; consuming these makes me feel like I might manage to avoid the biggest or most common degradations due to the same, which gives me hope that I could still arrive in my mid-40s one day and be mobile enough to run and jump and play with my children, even though I’ve been chained to a desk for 2 decades; generally I don’t share these on Facebook, but if I did it would probably be kind of odd, and you’d think I was one of those CrossFit nuts who shares their workouts with everyone, as though we are subscribed to and care deeply about your AMRAP or 1RM or PRs. Love you.
  7. Food preparation: Reading these gives me tools to battle the silly #1stworldproblem that we face almost daily — that our lives don’t include much margin for the time, energy, research, and expense required to eat calmly and well; we are frequently too tired to cook enthusiastically at the end of our weeks or our workdays, and so we struggle with this, and at the same time have concerns that we are getting the nutrition we need as we get older, and at the same time we are surprised that our grocery expenses are so high each month; reading these gives me hope that we might gain some leverage here, and more generally that we might gain some leverage everywhere, because meal prep is like a little case study about our entire lifestyle right now; generally I don’t share these on Facebook, because I am not a mommy blogger, and evidently I am also sexist or something.

 

Yeah. Interesting, no?

I’ll explore this a little more in a follow-up post. Meanwhile, here is my challenge to you:

Do The Same

Tally up your most common topics, then list them out, and make your own conjectures about how those topics mitigate your fears, insecurities, hangups, and cognitive dissonance. How are you compensating? Post your replies in the comments below, or on FB. If you want to open that can of worms, that is 🙂
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