Like landfills worldwide are overburdened with first-world garbage, so are our discussions. The idea that garbage in creates garbage out doesn't seem to have found broader adoption in public discourse.
Information is everywhere. It feeds our minds and sometimes poisons our hearts.
These days, everyone seems to have an opinion on everything.
Ask them about digitalization, AI, or universal healthcare, and chances are, you'll get more or less eloquent responses that will quickly fall into two opposing positions.
If you want to be super courageous, bring up religion or war, and good luck trying not to be overwhelmed with the responses.
In the good old days of the Bitcoin Hash Wars, you could have brought up big blocks, and you'd have received a similarly heated flood of comments when someone in Berlin introduced a gender-neutral toilet.
A friend recently told me about a friend of his who criticized the violence during some of the Gaza protests in London and got punched in the face as a response.
Are we losing nuance?
All of the above points to a bigger issue, in my view: our lack of nuance and the ability to say things like, "tbh, I don't have enough information to have an opinion on that."
I'm the first to tell you that I have no clue about a lot of the current hot topics, nor do I care for all of them deeply.
I'm still in the process of forming and trying to understand the issues at hand.
Take AI. Of course, people have told me countless times that my job will soon be lost to AI, and we copywriters will all have to look for new jobs. In fact, my own Mum sends some of those articles my way once in a while, along with the usual comment that I should do something more useful with my life.
Often, though, I found that those telling me that I'd be replaced by AI had never even read an entire text written by AI. They had no appreciation for the benefit of editing nor a true understanding of what it means to write and to do so well.
As a recent Noema article put it brilliantly:
At its core, writing is about creating intimacy between writer and reader. It’s a relational act, not a one-sided performance, and its power is in the exchange of ideas. It’s the closest we can get to inhabiting the mind of another human, the closest to escaping our own egos.
People who wanted to replace writers often needed the content just for the sake of having something to put on the blog and then link to it from their Social Media for a short moment of people's attention.
For the time being, AI has not come for my lunch. That doesn't mean it won't eventually - if the number of people who appreciate written content decreases enough for people not to hire for it anymore, then maybe I'll be done for and have to pivot to what my mum is suggesting: teaching.
I'm still learning on that topic, and trying what's possible and not.
This isn't necessarily a sexy position to take on typical social media, though (Farcaster, I believe, is a space where actually quite nuanced discourse occurs).
But why is that?
It's all related to the platforms we spend most of our time on and how we view information.
Are we living in the Brave New World?
In his famous book Brave New World, Huxley describes a world where citizens live in blissful oppression. Blissful because they all consume Soma, a drug that suppresses any negative emotions and creates a state of maintained happiness. Instead of using surveillance, all the state has to do to stay in power is maintain the status quo.
It's pretty convenient and way more doable than implementing things like Panopticons.
People give up their rights for entertainment and comfort.
Nowadays, we're willing contributors to the exploitation thereof.
The right to be forgotten?
Forgotten. If you don't want to be found, go to the second page of Google, as no one has the endurance to search that far.
And who knows, with the rise of AI, soon most searches might happen through the biased lens of an AI agent.
The first sentence in the German constitution is that Human dignity is inviolable.
When you interact online, though, it seems many haven't gotten that message. Revenge porn got to be one of those abominations the online world has come up with. Combine it with the ability to find people easily and a lack of ability to delete these things, and you get terrible outcomes.
Anyway, to get back on track. Chances are our current world is more akin to the Brave New World than the surveillance state outlined in 1984.
Instead of Soma, what we have is abundant information presented to us increasingly as short videos or audio clips.
Having information != being informed
We Americans seem to know everything about the last twenty-four hours but very little about the last sixty years.
We have more information but are less informed.
News picks the most shocking, interesting, or new piece, with journalists trying to be the first ones to break the story. It doesn't matter if it's all factually correct - it matters to be first.
And anyway, who reads beyond the headline.
With all the news constantly flowing, who even has time to read beyond the headline?
What's worse, the actually relevant items are drowned out in the noise of irrelevant celebrity gossip and ads.
Nothing against a little celebrity gossip, but does it really need to be on the front page of newspapers?
Similarly, you might watch a video on the downfall of the Roman Empire and how it relates to current-day events, but then the impact is lessened by a clip advertising Andrew Tate's latest "strong guy tutorial" (or whatever he puts out, I have no clue).
Neil Postman blames our loss of differentiation between form and content for the crisis at hand.
Form vs content
The form of media predisposes it to a certain type of activity. When reading, people engage more actively with something, and they have to accept the truth of what's outlined in the previous paragraphs before proceeding. They might also have a tendency to question things more depending on the context in which they encounter the writing.
A 30-second reel, on the other hand, is at best perceived as something that entertains. It doesn't encourage deeper thought, plus it's usually instantly followed by another story. News stories have become ephemeral.
They come and go just like the random cat memes or whatever the current thing is.
The speed of information has increased while our ability to cope hasn't necessarily kept up. And while consuming the current thing might give us some sense of being in the know, it might actually not be all that helpful.
Quiz shows would suggest that the person with a wide array of niche information, such as the lengths of rivers or which actress played in a 1989 Christmas movie, is intelligent. But knowing lots of things isn't the same as knowing a lot about things.
Latter is how I see intelligence.
Someone who's intelligent knows a lot about things and, importantly, knows how to think for themselves.
That seems to be a skill that we should put more emphasis on. Not on who has the latest status on botched celebrity nose jobs or which politicians made the worse figure in a scene cut out of context of a debate.
It would also help us with nuance and public discourse.
Are we not thinking enough?
When was the last time you spent deep in thought?
The last time you went "aha" when listening or reading something and then found yourself going down a rabbit hole of writing down notes, connecting dots, and eventually coming up with a framework that made sense around that topic?
No distractions around. No grabbing your phone out of some itching.
Just you and your mind.
I believe that's rare these days.
With all the data around, you'd think we make more sense out of the world around us.
It feels good to have a wealth of data. But just having data points doesn't create meaning.
Byung Chul Han even goes as far as describing this "dataism" as a form of nihilism. All that data merely fills a void; it does not really help people find themselves.
What's true for your aura ring not helping explain your life's purpose extends to how we use our minds. (Plus hey privacy ^^)
On Thinking deeply
To think deeply, we need to be more careful with how we consume data and information.
It means embracing that garbage in, garbage out also applies to the mind.
You know intuitively that only eating junk food will be bad for you, so why not adopt a similar stance to your brain? After all, it's our portal to the world.
Thinking in the age of distraction requires discipline.
It means not having a stance on everything that's happening.
Putting quality before quantity.
Knowing when not to give a f*ck, as Mark Manson would put it.
Instead of relying on social media algorithms for the news, I prefer human-curated choices. I reckon, in a sense, Farcaster is such a place - but for me, most of the general news and crypto news I get from roundup newsletters such as TL;DR.
Usually, that's sufficient to get along.
For topics that you're more interested in, I suggest finding some longer-form essays and setting dedicated times to reading them in-depth. For example, have a monthly session where you catch up on the articles you've bookmarked throughout the month.
Personally, I'm a big reading in print enjoyer. 📰
I've ordered the latest issue of Noema Magazine and devoured the essays on the science of Awe, and on AI's impact on visual art. Noema also features amazing art, so I can't recommend it enough. An added bonus is that it looks great on the couch table.
I supplement my Noema reading with articles I find in the local library's extensive selection of print magazines. To make sure I don't lose the information gathered from there, I make notes while reading.
Podcasts are another great source of information.
A few I am very fond of (outside of crypto stuff) for inspiration:
And then there are always books to go really deep into topics you care about. And documentaries.
Regardless of the format you decide to get information from, don't forget to
Focus is like a muscle. You can train it. You can compete with yourself. There's no instant reward, but eventually, you'll be much better at staying undistracted.
And that's quite a reward in itself.
When paying close attention, you'll retain more, and chances are you might feel inspired to take action based on what you learned. That can mean writing about it or trying to go deeper on a topic.
Being okay with being bored
Not having new stimuli for a bit gives your mind some room to think.
And btw, walking also helps with thinking.
It's well-documented that big composers, scientists, and authors all went on extensive walks to get ahead in their creations.
Context helps us see subtlety and nuance.
Take visiting a museum. You might have fun just looking at a painting.
Yet the experience changes drastically when you actually know what led to the creation of the artwork and what the artist was trying to achieve with their works.
Going a layer deeper than just the instant visual experience.
The same applies to music and visiting new places in general.
You might also develop a deeper appreciation for the later works of Beethoven, knowing about his anger over going deaf or starting to hear new things in the compositions of Robert Schuhman after learning about his mental health struggles.
Even though it sounds cliche, to write is to think. If you struggle with grasping a topic, just try writing all you find about it down and creating a conceptual frame. It can take you places (after all, this is how I learned all I know about crypto).
Life is so rich, it cannot be expressed in just a few tweets.
Topics are complex; they cannot be divided into just black and white.
Humans are complicated. There are hues and lots of greys.
Things aren't always as they seem to be, either.
Be curious and question things.
Seek context and be okay with not knowing everything.
Life is short.
Don't be satisfied with garbage in.
If you take away anything from this, then that your mind is something to treat well.
Isn't it worth having a good grasp of the things you really care about and the ability to experience things deeply at the expense of not being able to win some of those [pointless] online fights?
I didn't want this to be about crypto, even though I do admit it was partly triggered by having seen a lot of unnuanced discussions on Crypto Twitter.
I believe that we'll need more deep thinkers to eloquently discuss challenges around permissionless content platforms, curation, and access.
Maybe I can do a little part toward it by encouraging people.
And if you have any recommendations for podcasts to add to my list, I'm very interested in history, psychology, economy, and philosophy.
Thanks for reading! 💚
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