January 5, 2008

The Low Noise Life

Everybody's talking at me.
I don't hear a word they say.
--- Harry Nilsson, Midnight Cowboy
Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying.
--- Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb
We are what we eat. We're also what we consume with our senses. We don't let garbage accumulate in our homes. Yet we let garbage get dumped in our minds and rot there.

Our attention spans are limited. The more noise, the harder to detect a signal. We're like the SETI project looking harder and harder for intelligence but finding so little. Waking up to news radio depressed me before I got out of bed. What a way to start the day.
All the while the world is turning to noise.
Oh the more that it's surrounding us, the more that it destroys
Turn up the signal. Wipe out the noise.
--- Peter Gabriel, Signal To Noise
While "no news is good news", bad news is good ratings. If it bleeds, it leads. And hurts us.

What Can We Do?
We achieve more when we focus. We focus more when we eliminate the irrelevant. You'll find that's nearly everything. Thirteen months ago --- without telling anyone --- I
  • cut out news, sports, entertainment, traffic and weather reports
  • suspended the newspaper
  • started chucking out most junk mail
The first few weeks were scary. How can you work with clients when you're tuned out? Not a problem. They don't want to discuss current affairs with you. There are many other topics for small talk. If pressed, it's easy enough to say that you've been busy working and ask for a synopsis.
I’m not dumb. I just have a command of thoroughly useless information.
--- Calvin of “Calvin and Hobbes”

Here's what gets through
  • selected magazines: the articles and advertising give ideas
  • audiobooks: educational (generally nonfiction)
  • neighborhood newspaper: for local happenings
  • social media: for what others think is important (e.g., Digg and Google News)
There are more extreme guidelines in what Timothy Ferriss calls the Low Information Diet in his book The Four Hour Work Week.

You're lost during small talk because you don't know the latest about senseless violence, Stephen Harper, the US election, oil prices or, sadly, Jessica Biel. That's okay. You can listen and ask questions. Or daydream. Chances are others won't notice.

It is vain to do with more what can be done with less. --- William of Occam
More than a year has passed. Here are the results: more peace of mind and more focus. Your computer runs faster and has more free memory when you stop unnecessary programs from running in the background. The same with our minds.

Image from dubqnp.dk


jm said...

chucking out the junk mail? Don't do that! Do this instead!

Promod said...

That's an interesting idea, wj ;)

Christina A. said...

I love Gabriel's "Signal to Noise"! We live a low noise life around here too.


No television. No newspaper subscriptions. We get news from Maclean's, The Economist and Chatelaine. Lots of books.

The hard part is dieting from blogs...

Promod said...

Congratulations on your focused approach, Christina.

PS Since blog posts are small and provide such satisfaction, you needn't deprive yourself :)