56 Comments
May 17, 2022Liked by Gurwinder

I'm feeling like Gurwinder's teacher's pet after reading this because the last thing I wrote yesterday was a response to a question asking, "Do smart people actually learn anything from all that reading they do?" In a nutshell, I said, no, not unless they engage the material intellectually and write about it. You have to care enough about what you're reading to find the motivation to write about it. Maya Angelou was once asked what she thought about a breaking event concerning a social justice issue and she responded with a comment that went something like this: "I don't know what I think about most things until I write about it, so it has to be something meaningful to me. I'll let you know after I've written something" That happened in the 1980s and it hit my brain and became lodged forever. I could never be at peace with reading thereafter unless it was subject matter I intended to spend time with intellectually. I note that the person who asked the question as to whether "people actually learn anything from all that reading", well, he NEVER engaged ANYONE in conversation about it. Just posted the question in some kind of smug "Don't I look like an intellectual for asking this question?" way, and then abandoned the ENTIRE conversation. He didn't care about the question he was asking. He just want to appear "smart" for asking. My standard reaction when I notice people doing that is to NEVER engage them again. They're junk dealers.

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May 17, 2022Liked by Gurwinder

Great thread. My wife tells me the single most impactful thing I can do is to be non reactive to stimulus from interacting with other people as they may be manipulating you in either a good or bad way. Simply try to not react and and act In a manner that has come from your own self. I tend to put credence on her thoughts as she was a professor in psychology at the grand old age of 27 from Cambridge university. Anyway thanks Gurwinder for your thoughts

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Question-What do you mean by react by your own self?

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May 18, 2022·edited May 19, 2022Liked by Gurwinder

Great piece again!

The best way to avoid consuming junk food is to not have it in your house to begin with, rather than relying on your willpower; so the best way to avoid consuming junk information too is to not have it on your device.

Personally, I am not willing to let go of Twitter even though I realize I am inadvertently consuming a lot of junk, so I have to rely on other mental gymnastics. But if nothing else works, get rid of whichever app it is.

People who have done digital detox have spoken well of the experience. You can also do "intermittent fasting" of information!

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Feb 2Liked by Gurwinder

I'm a silversmith who works mostly at home, and have been dismayed at how much time I've spent online in the past three or four years. Much of it has been reading meaningful stuff, but still, it's a time-sucker, and my ravenous information gathering probably hasn't really done much for me or the wider world; I like to know and understand things - in my first life I was a journalist who did too much research - but I'm not sure how much difference it really makes. Recently I joined a local studio and have spent many hours there - during my time there I never check anything online, it doesn't cross my mind. And when I come home, I catch up a little bit but with nothing like the intensity of before.

In the early 90s I spent a couple of years backpacking in Africa. The only news we reliably got was about sports, specifically soccer, and whatever local news there was. No doubt we would have heard if there was a nuclear war somewhere. The lesson from that experience was how little of it really mattered to the average person, which is a lesson I seem to have forgotten in the internet age.

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Jan 24, 2023·edited Jan 24, 2023Liked by Gurwinder

I like the obesity metaphor. Although there's a missed opportunity here to extend the metaphor to include "chewing". Part of what makes junk food bad is not just its addictive nature or lack of nutrient-value, but also that there's less chewing involved in these ultra-processed foods (which then forgoes a host of positive biochemical pathways triggered by taking our time to chew).

Similarly, a quick-fix intellectual diet eschews (excuse the pun) the kind of time and reflective work required to think through, and develop one's own thoughts on, the information that one is exposed to.

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Aug 5, 2022·edited Aug 5, 2022Liked by Gurwinder

I like the term intellectual obesity. In the prescriptions section, you missed the most obvious and easiest solution to over-consuming junk: don’t just consume. This is not the same as “just don’t consume”, the road a lot of deliberate or high agency people go down, which is abstaining yourself. The abstention can vary in intensity, from a vague sense of shame after scrolling too much, to a highly rigorous system of disciplined screen limitations. I’ve tried this is varying forms, but I never liked it because it feels like I’m fighting a losing fight against nature.

What I’ve found far more effective is bringing up the baseline of consumption from *just* consuming into something more active. The simplest examples of that are commenting on it, or putting it in a playlist. I think anyone who thinks they scroll too much would benefit from trying for a day to comment something, anything, underneath everything they read (practicing what I preach here). Or, if it’s something like music, to curate it into a list of similar things.

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The last few months, after tracking my time more rigorously, I have discovered that not only is browsing a massive black hole for time, but, since I often write fairly long and detailed commenting, commenting is usually a huge portion of that that can turn a 20 minute article or video into an hour of commenting on it. Commenting, especially in high-quality, can be a huge time sink, so if one does not have enough time (as has increasingly been the case for me), I would not recommend browsing and commenting at all, or if you do, I recommend limiting it to only a few limited channels of information so that it takes a limited amount of time instead of hours and hours. Furthermore, in my opinion commenting does not solve the "junk info" problem; it is very easy to get caught for hours arguing with someone you don't know about something that is not very important, or writing a long detailed response to something, that has so many comments on it already people are unlikely to read it. Perhaps browsing and commenting may be better than browsing alone, but in terms of time and effort… Commenting _feels_ easy and low effort enough for me to easily start it, while in actuality taking a ton of time that would be better spent on more worthwhile pursuits. The combination of browsing and commenting, is by far the biggest black hole for my time and can easily push out even things like playing video games due to its supposed "easyness".

Writing and editing this comment (and it could even use more edits; but for the sake of time I will avoid that) has taken over 11 minutes to write as of right now, which is about average for a medium length comment for me. These things take longer than one may think! And that is why they are so pernicious in terms of time.

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Agree - I'd like to think that taking the effort to write a comment is worthwhile (yes, I appreciate the irony). I'm also tracking time spent on comments. (5 minutes).

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I completely agree, the focus on what information will actually make a difference is the correct one.

And not coincidentally, that's also the trait that tends to separate top achievers in any field from those less successful (regardless of experience level or innate talent). Those that focus on what will make a difference outperform those that learn or act for other reasons or purposes.

But I'd argue that in a socially and emotionally responsible person, it's not just about what will make a difference to us personally. It's also about what will (or at least might) make a difference in someone else's life.

For example, when any of us write almost anything, the very act of writing may be enough to make a difference in our own lives. "Writing is thinking," and the understanding it brings may very well change how we behave in the future; that's definitely making a difference.

But that's the *writing*. We don't need to hit the publish button for us to benefit from that. (at least for those of us who don't monetize our writing). So, why do we hit publish? I'm sure that at least for some of us, the reason is that we hope it may make a difference for someone else- even if it's someone we don't know, and even if we can never know for sure what impact it had on anyone.

So, I believe this issue of intellectual bloat doesn't just apply to what information we consume. It also applies to what information we produce - as in actually publish. And for me at least, thinking in advance about what might actually make a difference in someone else's life is also a really good filter for deciding what to invest more of my intellectual calories in when choosing topics to write.

In addition to original posts, I think this also applies to which posts and notes we actually respond to and which we ignore. If I disagree with someone and tell them that, is there really any chance that I'm going to change their opinion (and thus make a difference to them)? And if not, why am I investing my precious time and intellectual calories to do it?

Although this is an unfinished thought, I'll try to close the loop with it since it may offer something that someone, somewhere finds valuable. I think deciding what topics we want to write about might also be a tool we can use filter what information we consume. If I'm never going to care enough about a topic or learn enough about it to write about it, is it really worth my time to consume information about it? So, as writers, we might be able to use our choice of writing topics to support our intellectual diets.

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May 17, 2022·edited May 17, 2022Liked by Gurwinder

Anger and hatred are indeed very passionate emotions, as passionate as joy and zest yet far easier to invoke and much harder to exhaust. Unsurprisingly, they're often the lifeblood of social media. As you pointed out, headlines are designed to flame bait readers from all factions, consumers of info put out by such journos often espouse a very inciteful and dangerously misinformed outlook on a matter, sparking an equally furious reaction, setting into motion an endless stream of dominoes.

And its precisely for this reason that, when taken to its logical extreme, an unregulated free speech framework morphs into an orthodoxy of ideas guarded by aggressive cancel culture to phase out the cultural dissidents. Much like how an unregulated free market could segue into an exploitative monopoly and neutralise competition in a given industry. Going forward, it'll be interesting how future historians evaluate the current age. An exchange between two guys in an office break room about Reagan during the waning of his Presidency is lost to the nether. But political discussions these days tend to happen in text which has fortified visibility and survivability, ergo should a forgotten exchange between two Twitterati about Trump resurface in say, 2070, merely assessing the transition would be an odd experience, in my opinion.

People used to see the social media metaverse as something alluring and viable largely because it had not had enough time to manifest an end state: it was all about dreams and hopes, potentials and what-ifs, not long term, sober results. Now, we've already entered a period where there has been enough time lapse to broadcast, publish and post not only the "journey," the young-and-hopeful side, but the actual results. And the picture in front of us is not looking very good.

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It is the first time in history that human beings are so connected (so close), and I think that people feel insecure and afraid, people are anxious to know what is happening out there, every minute; and Social Networks give them that possibility. Many people are afraid, they look at Social Networks to find out if they have become a trend or if something they care about has become a trend, so they consume information only for the purpose of seeking to feel sure that nothing is wrong (as for what their own little world) is happening.

What I am trying to say is that one of the possible reasons why people consume garbage information is because the world today is so connected and that makes people feel that they are part of everything that happens. This made me think (and remind) of the Mercerismo religion boxes (from the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), the people linked in these boxes share the suffering of others.

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Superficially closer to more people. But Fundamentally further apart and to fewer people.

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I wonder why everything is a crisis. I wonder why we now live in an “attention economy” when we might actually live in a thousand different ways, not dominated by economic choices. I wonder why we focus on the outrage generated online, but overlook (or under highlight) the positive feelings generated as well. I don’t know the answers to these questions, and appreciate that this article provoked these wonderments in my mind.

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Jan 17, 2023Liked by Gurwinder

Absolutely brilliant writing... i am def going to close my insta, scary how social media works as clickbait in itself and the amount of manipulation is staggering..and if you want to close your acc, you HAVE to use the desktop. They even know with instant gratification psychology which is normal by now, we are even to lazy to use the desktop to close social media accounts..and don't forget when meta tells you to go and follow other people who follow you etc etc. Social media is almost like soft mk ultra in how they gradually push for people's minds to change

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Have read similar thoughts of yours on your twitter feed sometime back and it has greatly influenced me.

I got the notification for this essay while I was writing one essay about how we sometimes don't dig too deep into a conversation and using 'sayings' to cut the conversation short and I felt like your essay gives a very good explanation of the problem I am talking about.

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May 17, 2022Liked by Gurwinder

Alors moi là je vais continuer mon livre de Yasha Mounk

Merci de mettre précisément les bons mots sur mes pensées, elles étaient en vrac dans ma tête, et j’ai presque failli me faire prendre par ce réflexe de regarder quelques tweets à la con

🙏🏼

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Wise words

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Feb 13Liked by Gurwinder

Great article! I like the advice of the 10-10-10 rule. I've been actively trying to not be persuaded into reaching for my phone and forcing myself to be more productive instead. As you said, usually going online is just looking at memes, random posts that make you think for a second, and whatever else. A lot of it isn't too useful or worthwhile. Creating, on other hand, IS worthwhile to me, so I'm trying to do better in just taking care of myself. Not constantly scrolling has certainly helped.

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What a great article! Both the topic, so important to raise (more) attention to, but especially the writing style. Very much enjoyed it!

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