Meaningful Ignorance

Evan Solomon’s March 1998 interview with the NODE has to be one of my favorite interviews of all time because so many issues that he speaks about resonate with me and are still very relevant today, if not more so. Take the following quote for example, from the latter part of the interview, where he speaks about valuing ignorance.

You’re the editor of a happening magazine, you’re a writer, you’re the host of a television show. How do you cope with information overload?

I value ignorance. I unplug my phone, I unplug my e-mail, I’m notoriously difficult to get a hold of, and purposely so. Because I happen to be at the centre of a lot of information, that’s my job, and so one of the ways I protect the value of my job is that I have to retain my core competency, and my core competency is trying to discern good information from bad information. My core competency is actually learning, not talking; what gives me value is knowledge and not spewing knowledge. So the less time I spend talking to people and the more time I spend listening to people, the better.

As many of us are aware of today, small is the new big. With this in mind, it’s important to realize that it’s not the quantity of things you interact with daily that matters but the quality of them. In other words, do these things actually add meaning to your life, in a way that matters to you and your passions?

Technology has made my day inefficient because it’s opened me up…..it’s like having refrigerator that I keep on a busy street so I never have food in it because everyone can access it. No, I like to keep it locked up. So what I do is I try to really keep down the amount of information and I try to think, "Well, what information is really valuable for me to know? What helps Evan and not"…..you know, most people are trying to sell you information because it helps them and they’re convincing you that their information will help you. Well, it’s really your job to figure it out. Do you really want to know if Leon’s is having a don’t-pay-a-cent event? Well you probably know it. It takes up brain space. I hate that stuff. That’s not knowledge I need in my head. It clutters me. It’s information junk. I realize that being ignorant of certain information is more valuable to me because it allows me to value the information that I really need. I know what I need.

It seems like I see so many people out there searching for something to make them feel truly complete, yet it is often the searching through all of this "noise" that makes them feel so disconnected. Strangely enough if they just block out that noise and stop searching, that’s when they’ll realize that what they are searching for is already within them. They just need to stop, tune into themselves, and listen long enough to hear it.

William Gibson talks about going on media fasts, which is no information for five days, just going away — no phone, no TV, no radio, just your own stuff. People. It’s really weird (laughs). Try it. Try to stop watching television, listening to the radio, reading the newspaper, and go on an information fast. Do you know what happens to you? It’s like when you go away on a holiday and you’re out of touch: you relax. And you find out there are other things that are inside of you that are quite important. I think more and more people are going to go like they lose weight — they’ll go lose knowledge.

Therefore, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and disconnected, avoid the need to go frantically looking for something to add to your life that will make it better. Instead unplug yourself completely to discover what’s already within you that makes you truly complete (as well as unique).