You Don’t Have to Read Everything
“While we have so much information at our fingertips, it’s very easy to fall prey to consuming things that don’t serve us in any way.”
Then and now
Two weeks ago I wrote about what I call Shotgun Consumerism. This entails how I feel we, as a society, don’t really know much about going into a consumerist environment with one goal in mind and acting out that goal specifically. Where instead of going shopping for washing detergent, we leave with packets of chips, a new braai-stand, and maybe an upgrade for our kettle (because coffee in the morning is so important, right?).
While, yes, we might need those things eventually, we don’t necessarily need them right now, and it’s incredibly hard to act against that feeling of scarcity in that moment. Funnily enough, that feeling is hardwired into us dating back to the hunter-gather days of old, where we had absolutely no certainty those extra berries we saw would still be there tomorrow. Nowadays, however, we can be fairly certain that new fridge will still be there tomorrow, even weeks or months down the line.
The more I think about this concept of shotgun-anything, really, the more I notice how it plays a role in more facets of our lives. From the movies we watch to the clothes we buy and sometimes even wear. It’s almost guaranteed we’ll come across this experience in every area of consumption that we find ourselves in. There is, however, one area that I think is more pertinent now in the age of hustling and productivity power-hacking, that I want to make special mention of. Reading.
Does it spark anything?
To paraphrase Marie Kondo’s approach to decluttering the physical space, I think it’s important to ask yourself this question when you read something. In an age of ever-expanding information and virtual consumption, we are inundated with access to that information. Where previously you had to visit a public library (if your town had one) or borrow a book from a friend that trusted you enough to give it to you, now we have access to more reading material than we know what to do with.
When was the last time you subscribed to a newsletter? When was the last time you unsubscribed from a newsletter? If your answer to the first question is sooner than your answer to the second, then you’re likely on a fast track to an abundance of information you won’t know what to do with.
Don’t get me wrong, knowing the recipe for your favourite guacamole dip and Buddha’s final steps to enlightenment that “all entrepreneurs should know about” sound like fantastic things to read, but do you need to know both at the same time?
What if, instead, when you needed a new recipe for game night, that was what you focused on until you found the right one. And what if, when you start to struggle on your road to financial freedom you started to research Buddha’s “tips and tricks”?
I know that might sound silly, but we are so easily overrun by information that we have no ability to apply because we are seeking all of it at the same time. “I need to start my own business, but I also need to finish my degree, and I also need to find the best workout routine to lose weight before next week… and… and… and…”
Do you see how easy it is to fall into this trap? I’ve lived there for a long time. The question is whether you’ve had the chance to spot it in your own life yet or not.
It’s very easy to simply obtain, obtain, and obtain; but incredibly difficult to do something with the things that we obtain. Whether it’s an old shelf of clothing we can’t seem to get rid of because we “might wear them someday,” or the book we keep untouched on our shelf that we bought at a village market because “I’ll need to know that one of these days,” the result is the same. We search for one thing and we leave with another (hopefully also with the thing we were originally looking for). But that doesn’t really help us.
Imagine instead, as Marie Kondo suggests, that when we look at something we ask that question. When we see a new book or a new article, or even a suggested article in a newsletter, we ask if it will do anything for us, and then act accordingly from there.
Case and point
I fall into this trap all the time. I have a GetPocket archive filled with articles I come across while looking for something else that I think, “oh, this is interesting, I should read this later,” and I never do. I get newsletters all the time with extra reading material that is often suggested but isn’t something that interests me.
Now, what I try to do is I’ll only read something if it does one of three things for me:
- It’s something I can act on right now because I was looking for it specifically;
- It’s something that I can use in another project I’m currently working on (and can guarantee that I’ll come back to it soon once I bookmark it); or
- It will make me happy if I read it (or excited about something)
By making sure the reading material I’m presented with caters to either of these things, then I’ll save it because I know that it will be useful. All the other jargon and mumbo-jumbo out there, while interesting and promises the world, won’t help me here and now because I wasn’t looking for it.
I also subscribe to the Morning Brew, a newsletter company centred around snippets of news around topics like business, emergent politics, and economics. But, as with many of these high-flying newsletters, they are not always contextually applicable where you read them.
For example, Morning Brew was founded (and currently operates) in the United States, which means a great deal of their more actionable content doesn’t apply to someone like me, in South Africa. While President Biden’s campaign on doubling down his vaccine rollout in the States might be interesting, it has no real bearing on me currently, so I won’t dedicate time to reading it. The result of AstraZeneca’s clinical trials for their version of the vaccine, however, is pertinent to my country and so I’ll read that news snippet.
What I’m getting at here, is that while we have so much information at our fingertips, it’s very easy to fall prey to consuming things that don’t serve us in any way. And while our eyeballs will scan headlines that span the entire globe, it’s up to us as to whether we click-through and actually read anything about it.
Maybe, just maybe, we should be clicking less and absorbing more. Instead of reading 12 articles about productivity before breakfast, read one and apply what you learn throughout the next week or even the next month to see if it helped you in any way.
You don’t have to read everything, and there’s also nothing wrong with not knowing everything there is to know about something. The other side of this dangerous coin is that while you have access to everything right now, you will also have access to everything later.
You can always come back if you think you missed something or you want to go a little deeper. The world is a big place filled with many wonderful and interesting things. And it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.