Selective Ignorance

Does it really matter which Hollywood couple is getting divorced this week? Or who had a fight with the paparazzi? (If your esteem hinges on the “Big Brother” conversations you have with people, then you’ve got more serious issues.) Does it matter which YouTube video is getting the most hits today? Do you really need to know about the crisis that awaits you at work when you’re at home with your family? Do you really need to check your e-mail 3-4 times a day?

Although I don’t buy into everything in the book, the term “Selective Ignorance” caught my attention as I listened to a free audiobook download by Timothy Ferriss. He used this phrase as he discussed ways to simplify life and become more focused on the things that really matter. “Selective Ignorance.” – I love it!! I feel like he’s right. With the ease of the internet and the rise of gossip TV, we’ve become information addicts.

Check out these stats about e-mail from Timothy Ferriss’ website: (Notice that these are from 2006 – I’m sure the numbers have increased.)

  • 66% of people read email seven days a week and expect to receive a response the same day [eRoi Email Addiction Survey, Oct. 17, 2006].
  • 61% continue to check email while on vacation [eRoi Email Addiction Survey, Oct. 17, 2006].
  • 56% have anxiety if they can’t access email [eRoi Email Addiction Survey, Oct. 17, 2006].
  • “Crackberry” was the official winner of the 2006 Word-of-the-Year as selected by the editorial staff of Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Blackberry addiction has been labeled “similar to drugs” in a study performed by Rutgers University; millions of users are now able unable to go more than five minutes without checking e-mail.
  • In 2005, a psychiatrist at King’s College in London administered IQ tests to three groups: the first did nothing but perform the IQ test, the second was distracted by e-mail and ringing phones, and the third was stoned on marijuana. Not surprisingly, the first group did better than the other two by an average of 10 points. The e-mailers, on the other hands, did worse than the stoners by an average of 6 points [“Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” New York Magazine, Dec. 4, 2006].

All this is to say: I think we’ve got a full-blown addiction on our hands. We are addicted to being connected – addicted to information. We want to have it at our fingertips simply so we can feel like we know what’s going on in the world. I confess. I’ve fallen asleep on the couch in front of the TV on more than one occasion. By staying up for some pointless show, I knew I could be involved in the weekly conversations that I knew my so-called friends would engage in. Did I care about the show? Not so much. I was only doing it so I could be involved with my friends. Ultimately, it’s selfish. It’s about being esteemed by friends. It’s another form of “keeping up with the Jones.” But what if “keeping up with the Jones” keeps us from the real adventure that we could be having?

What if you didn’t hear about Michael Jackson’s death until a day later. Would your life suffer? What would happen if your co-workers couldn’t get in touch with you after work hours? Would you be fired?

What if we thought about these things the opposite way? What is already suffering because your coworkers are able to get in touch with you after work? What is the emotional toll on a man who feels like he has to check his e-mail 3 times a day? How much more could be accomplished if we didn’t spend so much time with e-mail spam or unmerited concerns of other coworkers?

Here’s my recommendation: Go on a media fast for a week. Try it. Choose to be “Selectively Ignorant.” Decide not to watch that show. Decide not to check e-mail or answer that phone call when you’re away from work. My bet is that you’ll become more focused. You’ll live in the moment more and truly “be with” people more. You’ll explore some new hobbies. You’ll rediscover some old passions that you had before. You’ll have a little more time to do the things you’ve always wanted to do. You’ll probably also discover that those things you thought you needed to know really aren’t all that important. (And by the way, when you start living life this way, it’s the Jones’ that feel like they’ve gotta keep up with you.) Let’s face it. Sometimes it’s true. “Ignorance is bliss.”

PS – I realize the hypocritical message I’m sending by encouraging you to go on a media fast in a blog post, but I thought this might be the only way someone would read such an article.