In The 4-Hour Work Week, Timothy Ferriss describes something he calls the “low information diet”. It’s fairly self-explanatory: don’t immerse yourself in unnecessary information, so as to free up your attention and intellect for the truly important. The essence of it is captured by the following quote:
What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the over abundance of information sources that might consume it.
– Herbert Simon
He sold me on the idea originally, but once I cooled off became more skeptical. Do I even want to have a low information diet? The answer seems to depend on my lifestyle at the time. To me, the ideal lifestyle is being able to do whatever you want, do work that you love and spend the rest of the time having sex. I’m certainly gunning for a life like this and if I had actualised it then no I probably wouldn’t want to concern myself with reading the news.
In my current lifestyle, though, where I work and am planted in my hometown; information is a means of escape. Reading the world news takes me somewhere else. Knowing about what’s going on makes me feel more in control. Learning and thinking make me feel sane.
Could it be that our preferences change based on the degree to which our needs are being met? Yes, most definitely. That seems to suggest that it’s best to actualise our true heartfelt desires primarily and then see what we care about after that, rather than taking our current whims too seriously. Easier said than done. The frustrating part is that we almost always need something of others to get what we truly need. Hence charisma, hence influence, hence social skills.
What kind of dark arts can bring us the life that we really want? What is required of us? I digress. The low information diet is something that can presumably enhance mental acuity but is most palatable when our life is such that we don’t feel the need to escape from it or supplement our feeling of self-determination.
And if possible, having specific questions answered by a knowledgeable person is better than wading through news and books ourselves, because it allows us to both reap the benefits of a low information diet and to have more trenchant and sagacious input.