I had a crippling dream recently. What if I couldn’t instantly access the answer to anything in the world I wanted to know?
I could go on and on about what-ifs, all ultimately tied to: What if my computer quit working? What if all the computers and servers that provide instant everything quit working? I will not elaborate on the way this might happen (we all know and appropriately fear the dreaded cyber attack), but what if it did? I can imagine a return to books. Think how valuable they could become – especially those encyclopedias and dictionaries.
Throughout history, prior to the technology revolution, the oral tradition (storytelling) and then the written word sustained our knowledge of just about everything. I remember how satisfying it was to go to the library and pull out the encyclopedia I needed to dig into for a class assignment about bugs or ancient Egypt. It was time-consuming and took real effort. But in that effort, learning became a true process – not just a minimal flick of my fingers as I typed a question into the Google toolbar.
The older I get, the more fleeting the information is in my brain. It’s just not as “sticky” as it used to be. My guess is that in today’s world, we are bombarded by so much information that we simply run out of byte space, so the minute we get the content we want, off it goes to who-knows-where to make room for the next bit of minutia coming our way.
But if I have to do some actual work, like reading a book to “learn” something (not just know it for a second or two, and never actually use that information), then I remember it. It also helps because we remember the book itself, how big it was and the color, etc. The feel of it becomes linked to the knowledge.
A cluttered mind is a scary place: I am anxious about what I don’t know yet but feel like I need to know to control my universe and, at the same time, housing all kinds of useless information that works itself out as worry. So, I am resolved to live more on a need-to-know basis by resisting the insane inclination to check my cellphone and email every second I am not engaged in an activity tied directly to my survival.
Perhaps I’ll take up reading poetry from a book, which takes some time to actually absorb and understand. And think how entertaining I will be to my friends and loved ones. Maybe, when they start talking about the frightening condition of the world and the imminent demise of our ecosystem, I’ll simply reply in my new Zen demeanor, “A rose is still a rose by any other name …,” at which point they will no doubt slowly back away as they Google on their cellphones “how to tell when your friend is losing it.” I’ll let you know how this works out for me.
Sharon Lennox-Infante is a Certified Life Coach who lives and works in Los Altos. For more information, visit sharonlennox.com.