There’s a barrage of information in the world, and it’s not going to stop any time soon. Here are some simple ways to stay up-to-date without losing your mind.
Here’s a question that’s been haunting me: why do we want to know everything?
In June of 2020, something terrible happened. The consequence has been a barrage of information. It’s being passed around in a national game of Chinese whispers, from WhatsApp chats to Twitter feeds. At mind-boggling speeds, in mind-boggling ways.
Somedays, I feel like the information is chasing me to the beat of an omniscient algorithm, and I just cannot escape it.
It’s like it’s running behind me, finding me in opportune and inopportune moments, not caring where I am or what I am doing. I look the other way, but no blinder of any quality can stop the information from worming its way into my life.
I tell myself I don’t want to know it. I don’t need to know everything. It’s not necessary. Then I stop and break my mind over why I need to convince myself of that. Surely I must want to know everything in order to convince myself to not want to know everything.
In my dreams (nightmares?), I confront my Wikipedia-wormholed teenage self for nurturing curiosity at all. This is all her fault!
And then I wake up wondering at this chaotic mental gymnastics. Yet, the question has remains; static like a billboard in the foreground of my mind…
Why Do We Want To Know Everything?
With a little digging, some introspection, and a few days of taking the trash out of my mind, I have an answer. It is simple, two-pronged:
- We live in an economy (news, social networks, personal relations) that profits off our desire to have things to care about, causes to champion, ideas to share.
- We don’t want to be left behind, thought of as ignorant or uncaring.
And so we sit glued to our screens; our TVs, our social medias, our group chats, as they spill forth an uncorked flood of information.
We force ourselves to read, to watch, to discuss, to share. We wake up, grab the phone. We sit at the breakfast table, newspaper in hand. We run ourselves ragged trying to one-up each other in the race to Know It All.
Knowledge, we are taught, is power. And we want to be powerful by possessing it. Why? Because we grow up learning that power is aspirational.
Respect becomes power to be earned. Money becomes power to be earned. Status becomes power to be earned. Good education, good jobs, good family, good retirement — all powers to be earned. Knowledge, now available on a phone near you, is the power currency of the 21st century.
If we have access to knowing, then not knowing is a sin. It is the choice to be powerless, apparently. But what’s the point of knowing everything when you’re losing your mind over it?
The truth is that this structure is toxic and unhealthy. It is a structure to fight against, not conform to. And here are some lessons in how to begin fighting it.
Lesson #1: You Cannot Care About Everything
In my early-20s, I truly believed that the only way to be was to care, and to show that I do.
I cared about many things, and I felt both FOMO and anxiety when I realised I didn’t know something. I didn’t know enough about feminism. I didn’t understand the finer points of nationalism. Heck, for a good couple of years, I didn’t know gender was a spectrum.
I was caught in a web of conditioned beliefs that I was taking too long to shed. Keeping in mind the aforementioned knowledge is power/power must be earned system; this made me feel a lot of shame. It didn’t help that the circles I wanted to be a part of were very quick to condemn if one did not catch up, and fast.
It was a lot of pressure, and eventually, I ended up with my fingers in too many half-baked information pies. This is a sweet metaphor for a breakdown, but honestly, who did I think I would become by giving 100% of my energies to every single thing ever?
I didn’t even have a full tank of energy to begin with!
This is when I realised I was treating myself very badly, and in turn, was not doing much beyond adding to a cacophony of voices.
For the first time, I felt that if I had to show I care, I had better show in a way that matters. As opposed to showing it in a way that made sure that everyone could see that I care.
That is not care. That is performance.
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Lesson #2: There Are Many Ways To Show That You Care
Once you realise you are performing care, you have to unlearn the theatrics.
I am not saying everyone who speaks up is performing. Not at all, in fact. A lot of people are educating, bringing about change, and overall doing amazing things which are so worth the respect they receive.
But while I thought that by knowing everything and imitating those methods of caring was the best way to do it, I was wrong. I was wrong, because they were the best way for the people I was copying.
The best way for me to show that I care is different. Not every change has to be large-scale, top-to-bottom, and publicised.
Change could be small things. It could be knowing things, but fine-tuning what to know about, and what to share.
Yes, sharing is caring. But it doesn’t have to be sharing something on your feed. It can be shared with family. With friends, relatives, immediate communities, one-on-one. And once we visualise sharing differently, then we can visualise knowing differently, and keeping up-to-date differently too.
Lesson #3: Your Mindspace Is Real Estate
As I have gotten older, and consequently more in charge of my life, it came to my attention that my mind had limited, well, attention.
Rega Jha wrote recently: “… my life for the last six months has been contained to two locations, both in the same room: a bed, on which I sleep and scroll, and a desk three feet from the bed, at which I write and scroll. My entire universe of happenings unfolds on screens… Just endless unoccupied attention, lying in wait to be grabbed.”
The mind has the amazing capability to grow and change and expand. But not when it is buried under a deluge of information. It needs air to breathe, space to rest, time to flower.
Hoarding information is unhelpful, and it takes up real estate that could be used for better thoughts, ideas, opinions and facts.
After you learn not to care about everything and how to care in different ways, you need to know what you care about.
I don’t mean that you can only care about one or two things, but even if you care about a large set of things, you cannot possibly give all of them the same amount of energy or mindspace.
What you care about can then be used to curate the information you receive, and where you receive it from. Both matter, and can be hugely beneficial to mental space and mental health.
Do you care about global politics? Gender? Maybe you like reading about law? Or you want to know more about the natural world? Perhaps you enjoy reading about civics, or history?
All of this can help you pick and choose, and that’s the final lesson.
Lesson #4: You Are The Curator Of Your Feed
You are the master of your feed, and the curator of your news.
Yes, I know it’s hard to avoid things when they pop up as recommendations. But on the whole, it’s important to weed through who you follow on social media, and where you get your information from.
First, you have to limit your feed.
It’s tough, but here’s how I do it:
For news, I avoid Facebook and Whatsapp. I stick to Instagram, and even on there, I choose ten sources: they cover urban and rural India, as well as international events. I also take the time to check their sources, and whether they are non-partisan.
I also enjoy in-depth global news and analyses, so I subscribe to a couple of newsletters whose writers take the time to research and elaborate.
For my other interests, I limit it to two or three accounts per interest and I only follow them if they keep me glued. Every other month, I manually go through the list of people I follow, and unfollow those I am no longer interested in.
I usually end up with what I need to know, rather than every single, uncatalogued piece of news in the world.
On YouTube, I follow creators who talk about culture theory in longform video essays. These don’t usually come out more than once a month, which makes it easier for me as well to refrain from binging.
Second, I actively take time off my phone, which is my primary source of information.
Over the last few weeks, I have been testing out a habit. I don’t look at my phone for 30 minutes (at least) after I wake up.
Initially, I was fidgety and found it difficult. Addiction to one’s notifications is a real thing.
But I have long known my mind to be capable of existing as is, no information needed. And over the last one week, I really have gotten the hang of being without my phone. The time has even gone up, sometimes to forty-five minutes.
My mind needs space, and I want to make sure that offering it the chance to just do nothing. To think. To wonder about stuff that’s on my mind. To go through my mental health processes actively. To think about things I want to do, and how my interpersonal relationships fare.
All of the things I forget when my mind is colonised by information I am not sure I want in the first place.
You don’t become ignorant, or uncaring when you choose to prioritise. You don’t lose touch if you don’t know one thing that’s happening in a world of seven billion. You lose touch when all you want is to know, rather than be.
Life cannot be a sum of what some newscaster is yelling, or who is giggling over what in which person’s Instagram story.
Care about yourself too. About what you consume. How you consume, and where from. Do it today. Do it slowly, and do it consciously. The way you trim the information tree matters as much as growing the tree itself.