Can you recount the last three pieces of content you read/listened to/watched? What did you think of them? Can you explain how they've developed and enhanced your worldview?
If you're anything like me, it's alarming to realise how difficult this is.
While the voice in the back of my head tells me I've had a productive day and consumed high quality content, I am quickly reminded that consumption and synthesis are two incredibly different concepts.
We exist within a society which praises volume of information consumption over quality of information synthesis. It's simply easier to measure the quantity of content we've consumed rather than ways that content has led to personal development. Quite frankly, it's also less mentally taxing and easier to tell ourselves 'I've had a great day, I read 10 AFR articles'.
With technology enabling us to consume content every second of the day, we feel guilty for 'wasting time'. When walking to university, taking the bus/train to work, or going on a morning walk, it's so easy to throw on headphones and turn on a podcast or audiobook, or to read a news article on a mobile phone. And we feel obliged to do so.
This problem used to be confined to workaholics, who could work on emails and Powerpoint decks without reliable internet connection. The stereotypical 'pls fix' meme of a finance professional grinding out a slide deck poolside, or the businessperson on the train conversing with a colleague over the phone. However, with 24/7 access to mobile data, this phenomenon is no longer confined to corporate professionals. It's universal. It's both ubiquitous and self-reinforcing. We're consistently plugged in.
Next time you're on a bus or train, count the number of people wearing headphones or scrolling on a device, and contrast this with the people who are doing neither. I've tried this a few times recently, and it's very difficult to find an environment where the latter trumps the former.
Don't get me wrong, I believe that our interconnectedness is fantastic. It provides access to high-quality multimedia content, and inspirational thinkers from all over the world. Their wisdom and insights are now more accessible than ever.
However, this interconnectedness develops a stigma against disconnecting. Smart, intelligent, successful people have a belief that 24/7 information consumption is necessary to maximise productivity. By maximising engagement with intellectual content, we convince ourselves that we are effectively curating a content consumption engine and adding incremental value to our lives.
This simply isn't true. In fact, meaningful thought and learning is more likely to be obstructed than enhanced.
Synthesis of complex information and formation of meaningful insights requires disconnection. It requires time spent mulling over new ideas, allowing our minds to absorb content and spawn connections of its own.
In light of this realisation, there are a few ways I'm re-thinking my personal productivity and content consumption engine. Here are some tips I'd like to pass on:
- Take travel time to clear your mind and synthesise what you've been reading, watching or listening to in the preceding few hours
- Record thoughts and snippets of inspiration throughout the day. I've found that voice memos on the phone/watch work extremely well. In fact, this article was inspired by one.
- Focus on quality consumption rather than quantity of consumption. Use tip (1) above to recall the key points and form personal views on this content. What have you learned? What are the biases of the content creator?
- Write longer form thoughts in online articles. The great thing about publishing articles online is the 'audience call option'. Either nobody reads your articles (me currently), and you learn how to write more concisely and synthesise your thoughts; or, you add value to others' lives and build a following of people who want to engage with you and your work. There's only upside
If you've made it this far, thank you!
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