Expiring Information

Note to my future self…

For the past month or so, I’ve made a conscious and aggressive effort to improve the quality of the content that I expose myself to. Part of it is to help me improve my focus and be more present. Part of it is because I became aware of the extent to which the information that I am expose to shapes my believes, desires and mood.

Although I will write more about my progress in the future, today I want to talk about expiring information, which is one of the tools that I’ve used to help filter the information that I consume.

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” – Kurt Vonnegut

There’s this wonderful article that discusses this concept more in-depth but the idea is this: How much of what you read today will you still care about a year from now? The answer is that most of the information you consume today won’t matter in a day much less in a year.

The news cycle and Twitter are a perfect example of this. Something that’s a scandal today will probably be forgotten by tomorrow morning. Therefore, thus it make sense to spend time on something that won’t be relevant tomorrow? Although I don’t think we should absolutely discard every piece of information that’s bound to be short-lived, I do think that 95% of it worthless.

The article points out that “Expiring knowledge catches more attention than it should, for two reasons. One, there’s a lot of it, eager to buzz our short attention spans. Two, we chase it down, anxious to squeeze out insight before it loses relevance.”

On the other hand, “Long-term knowledge is harder to notice because it’s buried in books rather than blasted in headlines.” Not only does long-term knowledge not expire but it compounds over time. In other words, you can build upon what you’ve previously learned. Now this is the interesting part that I find fascinating and real reason why I think we shouldn’t seriously consider decreasing the amount of attention that we pay to expiring information.

Expiring information is like building a sand castle that gets destroyed by waves every single night. Yeah sure maybe some remnants are left over but you have to fundamentally start from scratch every morning. Long-term knowledge, on the other hand, is more like building a medieval cathedral. Laying every brick takes time but the end result is a formidable structure that can stand the test of time.

A more tangible example of this distinction is the difference between reading/watching news and reading a book. You probably don’t remember a thing from most of the newspaper articles that you’ve read in your life but you probably do remember a lot of the books that you’ve read. Although I am not suggesting we should stop reading newspapers, I do think that we would all be better off if we paid less attention to information that really doesn’t move the needle.

Takeaways

A couple of key takeaways that I want to mention before wrapping up:

  1. Before watching a movie, video or reading an article, I try to ask myself: Will I care about this a year from now? Ten years from now? Eighty years from now? If the answer is clearly no then I stop.
  2. Long-term knowledge is important because it allows us to build on top of what we’ve already learned. Expiring information makes us start over every single day.

Counterpoint Note

I will say that it’s important to note that we shouldn’t eliminate all expiring information because if we do we might risk removing all potential serendipity of our lives. We need to be willing to expose ourselves to some amount of expiring information to get a sense of what’s going on out there and explore our interests. That’s it. I just thought it was worth mentioning.

Now back to work…