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March 25, 2014 12:07 PM   Subscribe

What Good Is Information? - "The internet promised to feed our minds with knowledge. What have we learned? That our minds need more than that"

So what can you do?
Go on a digital detox retreat, do your own fast from smartphones and social media, or apply one of these fifteen ideas.
TIME takes us through the Mindful Revolution [PDF]
TIME's Beautiful, White, Blonde Mindfulness Revolution and "what it really looks like."

The Mindfulness Racket - "The evangelists of unplugging might just have another agenda"
In essence, we are being urged to unplug—for an hour, a day, a week—so that we can resume our usual activities with even more vigor upon returning to the land of distraction. Here the quest for mindfulness plays the same role as Buddhism. In our maddeningly complex world, where everything is in flux and defies comprehension, the only reasonable attitude is to renounce any efforts at control and adopt a Zen-like attitude of non-domination. Accept the world as it is—and simply try to find a few moments of peace in it. The reactionary tendency of such an outlook is easy to grasp. As the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek once quipped, “If Max Weber were alive today, he would definitely write a second, supplementary, volume to his Protestant Ethic, entitled The Taoist Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capitalism.” And what a wonderful Kindle Single that would make!
The Disconnectionists: '“Unplugging” from the Internet isn’t about restoring the self so much as it about stifling the desire for autonomy that technology can inspire'
Maybe first we should define digital mindfuless.

Why We Disconnect Matters
Nothing Wrong With A Digital Detox But Wired Nature Is Better
'Camp Grounded,' 'Digital Detox,' and the Age of Techno-Anxiety
posted by the man of twists and turns (24 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
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posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:28 PM on March 25, 2014

The problem with information (as some have pointed out) is that it takes some effort to convert it into knowledge, and a lot more effort to derive wisdom from that knowledge.
posted by Flexagon at 12:32 PM on March 25, 2014 [9 favorites]

Fantastic post. Thanks!

And if there is an antidote to boredom, it is not information but meaning.

David Brin spoke about this in his 1989 novel Earth (see this), and again in his non-fic Transparency. I'm glad to see that Dougald Hine mentions what Brin did back then -- that learning from knowledge and keeping an open mind to different perspectives is essential.
posted by zarq at 12:42 PM on March 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Convincing people where the signal is in all the noise is still the really hard problem, ya'll.
posted by DigDoug at 12:42 PM on March 25, 2014

Having spent the last few days offline, I return to find this, and I call BS.

The only reason someone is bored is because they don't have a creative enough mind to find use for their time. It's been true since I was a kid (before the internet), and is still true today.

I could spend years watching videos learning more about machining and my other hobbies... time well spent, and useful in my chosen craft.

Your boredom is your own fault... always has been, always will be.

The internet is a nice thing to have, electricity, working indoor plumbing, and a stable society to enjoy all of them in is awesome. We need to appreciate all the things we have... much in the same sense as being able to sit in a recliner at 30,000 feet going 500 miles per hour.

Life is grand... enjoy it.
posted by MikeWarot at 12:46 PM on March 25, 2014 [8 favorites]

Please don't turn me off
I don't know what I'm doing outside
Me and the telephone that never rings
If you were me, what would you do?
Me, I disconnect from you

posted by Foosnark at 12:46 PM on March 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

it takes some effort to convert it into knowledge, and a lot more effort to derive wisdom from that knowledge.

Information is mash, knowledge is spirits, wisdom as whisky.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:55 PM on March 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

Life is grand... enjoy it.

I like to say that life is nature's most precious curse.
posted by Flexagon at 1:10 PM on March 25, 2014

Information is mash, knowledge is spirits, wisdom as whisky.

We have always been at war with Malaisia.
posted by jquinby at 1:12 PM on March 25, 2014

"Everyone has these devices with all this information in them now! That makes me think of this person I heard about who got sent to prison for trolling! Which leads me to Stewart Brand, with a brief namecheck of Ken Kesey! Brand cofounded the WELL, which had some hippies there, which may have given him some early insight into the nature of the internet! One of those hippies compared information to LSD, or possibly to a Jefferson Airplane lyric! Why do we want all this information, anyway? We're still bored sometimes! I have a friend who didn't want to play the pub quiz even though he'd be really good at it -- he knows a lot of things! But information isn't sufficient for wisdom! This has nothing to do with the internet by the way: people were bored during the industrial revolution also! The internet has a lot of facts! But in conclusion you need to take some time to think about the facts. Also if you take too many drugs or too much information you're gonna have a bad time."

Thing reads like somebody liveblogging a random walk through wikipedia.

Ooooh, I get it, it's a performance piece
posted by ook at 1:15 PM on March 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

The idea from the first article that boredom didn't exist before the 1700s seems completely ridiculous to me. So much of the history of entertainment, sports, art, storytelling, everything is rooted in the fact that people with nothing to do will look for ways to occupy their time.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:18 PM on March 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

mikewarrot I totally disagree. Behavior is a function of reward in the context of biology and learning history. Perhaps your learning history is such that high-frequency, low effort rewards don't impact your behavior as much as the average person. Many people become accustomed to the high-frequency, low effort rewards to the extent that anything that requires more effort for less-frequency becomes as dull as watching paint try on a damp day.

I do not disagree with your political commentary or your suggestion for how people *should* spend their time. I disagree with the idea that someone being bored is somehow due to a lack of creativity or capability to self-entertain.
posted by rebent at 1:34 PM on March 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am confident that the life of the average technology-obsessed person of today is substantially more pleasurable and rich than that of their average parent or grandparent. The fact that we still find things to complain about is not evidence against this, rather it is human nature.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:35 PM on March 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Favorited. Will come back and read later.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:38 PM on March 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

The only reason someone is bored is because they don't have a creative enough mind to find use for their time. It's been true since I was a kid (before the internet), and is still true today.

Eh, but you forgot to add that this sort of activity has to be socially acceptable and not destructive to yourself or other people's well-being. In the first article, they briefly mention that the woman who was arrested in the UK for threats and harassment over Twitter did it because she was 'bored'. Sending death threats probably takes some sort of planning and creativity, particularly if you end up as one of the only ones to actually have been arrested by the police. Similarly, children know how to resolve boredom, but they don't always because they shouldn't go around unscrewing all of mom's lotion and makeup and pouring it on the floor when she isn't looking or going up to someone and knocking their teacup on the floor without any warning. Not that I have any experience with that...
posted by FJT at 1:45 PM on March 25, 2014

MikeWarot, I think there's a difference between the way you (or I) use the Internet, and the way someone in their 20's would. We grew up and developed interests before the age of constant connection - back when there were occasional periods with "nothing to do" except learn birdcalls or how to work with wood, so we tend to use the net to build on those pre-existing interests. It must be very different for someone growing up today to develop interests and hobbies. Not sure if it would be good or bad, but it would definitely be different.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:27 PM on March 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

As my buddhist therapist was fond of saying, "Boredom means you're not paying attention." In other words, to think that our modern devices are any more guilty of causing boredom than any part of nature is naive.
posted by jpolchlopek at 5:11 PM on March 25, 2014

So I had my little bit of fun snarking out on the lead article's structure earlier, but the more I think about it the more its thesis -- that boredom is a result of too much undifferentiated information; that you need to unplug from information in order to absorb it -- really bothers me.

That little magic box of information means that when my kid asks why he has to take a bath, what's wrong with just being dirty, we can wind up three minutes later looking at a diagram of the epidermis together and he's learning about sebaceous glands. It means that when he asks why the sky is blue or what the weather is like on different planets or any of the other zillions of questions that five year old kids ask, I don't have to handwave an answer, we can go learn about it together on the spot. It means those little sparks of curiosity can be encouraged, immediately.

Now, if it were a perfect magic box of all information, I can see how that would be stifling: there'd be no incentive to learn or make connections on your own if you knew that somewhere in that magic box somebody had already figured it all out for you. But it's not like that. Every question leads to some answers but also to more questions, more connections to be drawn, and frequently we wind up at one of the things that just aren't known yet. That's not stifling or limiting or something you need to "detox" from. The further in you go, the bigger it gets.

Arguing that we need to unplug from the internet in order to learn is like arguing that all these libraries make it too hard to read. The internet isn't the problem; too much information isn't the problem. Conflating click-trances with information-gathering is the problem. The time wasting meaningless things that also happen to be available on the internet are the problem. "[T]he constant flow of information to which we are becoming habituated cannot deliver on such a promise. At best, it allows us to distract ourselves with the potentially endless deferral of clicking from one link to another." he says. At best? Really? Distractions exist online or off. If you need to "detox" from the whole internet just to stop yourself losing hours to the latest cat memes on Reddit or all your friends' brunch selfies or the latest blogfight about ${topic}, fine, but don't try to dignify it by describing it as information overload. Information is not what you're shutting yourself off from.
posted by ook at 12:09 PM on March 26, 2014

Behavior is a function of reward in the context of biology and learning history

Um, no, unless by 'learning history' you mean to roll up natural selection and 'context of biology' you mean to include all circumstances surrounding the organism. IOW: Not all behaviors are behavioristically explicable.
posted by lodurr at 3:15 PM on March 27, 2014

Lodurr, yes, natural selection is rolled up into the biology aspect. And you're right, I did not include the current situation because I (absent mindedly) frequently lump that in with "learning history" because, after all, the present is just the past that hasn't happened yet. A mental shorthand on my part that unfortunately does not translate well outside of my head.

because, yes, all behaviors are not only behavioristically explicable, but also theoretically behavioristically predictable. We don't have 100% predictive power, but we do have sufficient predictive power to be able to confidently use the science of behavior modification as a medical technique.
posted by rebent at 6:32 AM on March 31, 2014

because, yes, all behaviors are not only behavioristically explicable, but also theoretically behavioristically predictable.

First, I think you've got that backward: You should be saying that they're both theoretically explicable, and actually explicable.

In any case, you appear to be conflating "behaviorally" and "behavioristically". That all behaviors are behaviorally explicable is tautologically true; that all behaviors are explicable via the theories associated with behaviorism is a rather large claim that you're not doing anything to support in any way.
posted by lodurr at 6:56 AM on March 31, 2014

Well, I see a difference between explainable and predictable. Psychoanalytic theories can explain everything, so does marxism. But those explanations aren't satisfying unless the explanations lead to prediction.

Does behaviorism have a stronger predictive power than other scientific theories? Depends on the theory, but I have been routinely impressed with the power of behaviorism to accurately predict change in behavior.

Are the current tools that the field of behaviorism promotes always the right tool for any given need? No, I do not believe they are. Nor are the practitioners some sort of embodied science - they are human like anyone else. But I believe the theory has strong predictive power, and to me, that's what's important.
posted by rebent at 10:32 AM on March 31, 2014

Brain Rewires Itself, Panic at Eleven. - "Neuroscientists are discovering that online reading rewires the brain in favor of high speed sorting and filtering, rather than deep concentrated reading"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:53 PM on April 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

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