How and why to embrace the power of ignorance
No, really! The main thing blocking good knowledge these days is bad knowledge. Here's how to drop the bad to make room for the good.
Why is so much of our knowledge basically useless and frivolous.
While many people know all about consumer products, reality TV stars and pop music, 20% of Americans can't name a single branch of government. 70% can't name a single living scientist. And half of Americans can't name a single Supreme Court Justice.
In the 20th Century and before, knowledge was rare and hard to get. If you didn't read books, seek out information and actively learn, you simply didn't have knowledge. You were generally ignorant.
The absence of good information was no information.
We live in a different world now.
Now, social media, advertising and ubiquitous media push information at us from every direction. It's not information that serves us. It serves the pushers. Just showing up on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or TikTok means that the information starts flowing. Browsing the web gives you not only what you're searching for, but advertising galore. Same with TV. Driving down the street exposes you to an ever growing amount of advertising content.
Our motivations for seeking knowledge are being hacked in an increasingly asymmetrical battle over our attention. Billions of dollars per year are being poured into science and engineering designed to exploit our brains to make us crave the next nugget of useless content. Year after year, the machines get better at using us. We're the targets of a global effort to grab our attention, and we're often not even aware that it's happening. Even on TV, news has been replaced with polarizing, grand-standing talking heads who grab attention by vilifying those "other people," leading viewers to see politics as good guys vs. bad guys and have no useful information about policy or platform.
Today, the absence of good information results in you learning bad information automatically and by default.
If we do nothing, our heads will be filled with junk content. The amount of time we spend being spoon-fed garbage information will grow. That's why so many people today know all about the TikTok "influencer" of the moment, but can't find China on a map.
We live in a theoretical information utopia. We can read just about any book, take any of thousands of university courses from Harvard and MIT and others, learn how to do anything on YouTube, use Google Search to find out just about anything.
A million years of ignorance caused by the scarcity of information is over. Now, the main barrier to good knowledge is a media and advertising landscape that overwhelms us and consumes our time and attention with bad knowledge.
It's time to realize that blocking junk content, avoiding the algorithms that seek to hook you, is something of an art and a skill to cultivate.
In other words, we have to cultivate ignorance on a wide range of pointless subjects in order to be knowledgeable about useful and interesting subjects.
So how do we remain ignorant of useless information?
Here are some powerful approaches to avoiding, resisting and blocking junk knowledge:
1. Get your information from human curated sources. Algorithms are designed to grab your attention and keep you on the service for as long as possible. Human curated sources, from newspapers to high-quality blogs to well-moderated subreddits are designed to inform.
2. Use two Twitter accounts. Either follow on Twitter based exclusively on the quality of information they post, or use a second account (as I do -- here's who I'm following on my quality-information Twitter account) as your Twitter input and use your other account as the output.
3. Use email rules. Ruthlessly eliminate emails containing useless knowledge from your email inbox with rules or filters.
4. Separate work from "browsing." Much of our browsing and web surfing is recreational escapism. Without self-restrictions, it can consume more and more of your time and attention, leaving you feeling like you're "working" all day when in fact you're just being used all day by the algorithms. It's best to limit and schedule browsing for the end of the day so it doesn't take over your time and attention while you're trying to do something productive.
5. Never dive into an infinity pool. An "infinity pool" is a stream of content with no bottom. Twitter. Instagram. YouTube. The alternative is to limit your content by time or choose a feed with a bottom. For example, never look at content when on an infinity pool stream older than one hour or one day. That gives the pool a bottom. Always enter an info-stream with an escape strategy.
6. Aggressively block. Use email rules or filters, the block feature on your smartphone for calls, the block feature in social media and others to prevent time-wasting sources of content from coming at you.
7. Actively skip segments or episodes of podcasts that aren't delivering. Don't just run your podcasts and mindlessly listen. If the podcast is droning on and failing to inform, skip the segment or the rest of the podcast and go to the next one.
8. Work offline whenever you can. If whatever you're doing isn't requiring active internet connectivity, turn off the internet. Your brain will notice and pay more attention to what you're doing.
9. Turn off notifications that notify you of new information. Notifications for communications -- incoming texts, calls and others -- are one thing. Notifications for information are usually needless interruptions.
10. Never get your news from TV. The news on TV isn't news. It's an addictive form of entertainment that is very light on good knowledge and very heavy on bad knowledge. Read your news.
11. Never channel surf. TV can be very high quality these days, so don't waste your time on bad TV content or browsing through the channels for something to watch. Be intentional with the boob tube and choose what to what based on quality.
12. Pay for content that removes advertising. Advertising is always pushing junk information at you. If you get an affordable option to get content without ads, take it.
13. Use an ad blocker. Install an ad-blocker on your browser.
14. Prepare a list of sites or bookmarks for intentional escapism or "breaks" that you've curated yourself. If left unchecked, your mind will just lunge to the frivolous infinity pool sources of purience or outrage most available -- YouTube, Twitter, Instagram. A better strategy is to identify sources of entertainment that also give you good information, and choose those when you take a break. I like to use YouTube to learn about food, for example.
15. Quit the social networks that aren't improving your life in some way. Are you on too many social networks? Get rid of the worst ones and keep only the best ones.
16. Remove social apps from your phone, and use them only with a laptop or desktop. One easy way to eliminate the social media trap is to get rid of the social apps on your phone.
Pushers of junk information are getting better at stealing more and more of our energy and attention. It's time to get active protecting our minds by embracing systems, habits and practices that keep us ignorant of all the bad information they want to push at us.