Tuesday, January 17, 2012

finding your thoughts in the onslaught of information

In the middle of the night, there are thoughts. Thoughts that are completely my own. They wake me up and keep me awake. They circle around and manifest into new thoughts and bigger problems until they make my heart race. Sometimes I lay there listening to my heart and wishing it would just shut up so I could rest. Thank god not all wishes are granted.

These are original thoughts. They are thoughts of things to do, of things about which I fear and worry, of things of which I am unsure and do not know how to resolve. Every now and then, they are beautiful thoughts too. Something phrased in just the right way for a poem. An image of me and my son playing on the beach in a summer to come. The way my mother took my hand and squeezed it tight when my emotions got the best of me. I'm here, she said without speaking. And the thoughts come in waves, over and over, washing over me to make me feel like I'm drowning, and then rinsing me clean with notions of what can be... and finally I sleep.

The other day I was on Yahoo's main page clicking through their "news" items. I read about the best ways to lose holiday weight gain, about an NFL player's reaction to losing his beloved wife, about the top 10 gaming smartphones. I watched a video of Britney Spears' son showing off his dance moves. Did I care? No. Did I, in fact, really not care? Yes. What was I doing then? I stood up from the computer 15-20 minutes later, after perusing what Yahoo thought I needed to know, and felt stupider... and empty, almost dirty. Trashy, that was it. Something about the whole process felt cheap and empty and flimsy.

Guess when I started trying to sort this all out? Yup, in the middle of the night. And I began thinking about how this wrap-up of everything important by Yahoo was personally meaningless to me. My head was BEING filled, passively, with many things, most of which I moved away from not feeling any the better, the smarter, or the more enlightened for knowing. Perhaps I felt more 'on top' of the hype. But that was it.

I know someone who, whenever I see him, will ask me, "Did you hear about the historic tree that caught fire in Florida?" or "Can you believe this thing with the cruise ship sinking off the coast of Italy?" I've recently realized that he seems to feel a need to not only be on top of this gossip, but to spread it as if he discovered the story on some obscure website that is getting only 9 hits, rather than on the front page of Yahoo. This is also a person that can't seem to reconcile his 'empathy' for those who died in the cruise ship disaster ("it's terrible; people died!") with his lack of empathy for a family he has betrayed and deeply wounded.

Do we think our own thoughts anymore? At times other than 2 and 3am in the morning? Certainly, but it gets harder. It gets harder when one of our jobs as modern human beings is to always be on top of everything, including ALL of the news in the world, even the trash. For things are not pre-filtered for us, but rather poured on top of us and we must climb through the pile of trash... and sometimes that alone feels like a victory. So, in some small way, I can understand the person above... shouting his newly-found freedom from the top of the trash heap.

I remember when I was a senior in high school and I started reading the New York Times in the mornings. I'm a slow methodical reader (and other things) and I never got much further than the first few pages before I needed to rush to get off to school. I probably read three stories. I felt behind, as many of my classmates would come in mentioning articles from EVERY section. Not only had they read the whole paper, it seemed to me at the time, they had memorized it. And my father revealed to me how the headmaster at my brothers' school read through four whole papers every morning. FOUR WHOLE PAPERS?? I couldn't even comprehend it.

Nonetheless, I remembered the stories I had read. They stayed with me through the day. They brought up questions in my mind. They revealed to me that there were parts of the world whose geography I didn't even know. And because I only read two or three articles a day, I could go home later and pursue these questions, or look up the country on a map... and spend time thinking new thoughts. For that was the other thing these articles did for me. They made me think new thoughts... without overwhelming me with so much information that I just shut down completely.

I worry. I worry about too many things probably. But I do worry about how the overflow of information and our need to stay abreast of "everything" shuts out our ability to think new thoughts. We need that extra space in our heads. But habits become habitual so easily. And so we read what Yahoo believes we should know. And we read the updates of our friends and family on Facebook. And then we have had enough. Because we want to get to other things. We want to get back to life. But are we returning there thoughtlessly? Literally and figuratively?

Life will not move without new thoughts... original thoughts... sometimes ridiculous thoughts. If it is true that, as Marcus Aurelius once said, "The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts," then we must do a better job of thinking our own thoughts. Improve the quality, not the quantity. For thoughts make the world and thoughts make us. And I would rather be full of a single thought, labored over and rewritten and reworked and produced from a pen in my hand on a single blank sheet of paper -- my very own thought -- than be master of every news item to appear that day... but lost as to the direction of my very own life.

1 comment:

  1. This is why you need to unplug every day, and then consecutive days every month. I think it's called, "vacation".