Editor’s note: Dennis Wyatt is on vacation. This could originally appeared May 14, 2015
It’s something that we all need to do more of, especially in a world of snap reactions fueled by everything from smartphones to websites that pop up enough information to fill the Library of Congress in 0.007 seconds.
It is too easy in a world where you can Google two words and come up with more possible websites to explore than the number of books 20 librarians handle in a lifetime to assume we are all smarter. There’s a difference between information and knowledge.
And while a lot of information can be digested quickly to make informed decisions, whether you are code writing or investing in stock, the same is not true with many things in life.
That’s because we need to learn and exercise mental stillness, human empathy, deliberation, critical thinking, and perspective.
This is something that those who believe in the power of prayer — or if you prefer the personal contemplation as personified by Ralph Waldo Emerson — already know.
We spend too much time thinking fast. In doing so, we fail to build strong anchors against the hurricane force of emotions, words, and images that come at us with a tap of a screen.
It is the danger of confusing the possession of the latest cutting edge technology as the panacea for all that ails or scares us.
More exercise equipment doesn’t make us fitter.
More TV channels don’t make us more informed.
More doctors don’t make us healthier.
More food doesn’t make us more nourished.
More toys or money doesn’t make us happier.
They are all simply tools that in themselves are of little value. It is how you understand their worth and how they can be used to transform you that really counts.
Today, we are being inundated with more information than ever before.
The late theorist Buckminister Fuller determined that up until 1900 human knowledge doubled every century. By the end of World War II it was doubling every 25 years. Now those who dabble in such theories say our knowledge is doubling every 13 months. IBM researchers expect the Internet to eventually create a situation where knowledge is doubling every 12 hours.
Being able to weigh knowledge — even if it is simply personal cotton candy type of items that fill Facebook pages — is more essential than ever. We are interacting with the world and others at near lightning speed.
And just like computers that are overwhelmed we can freeze or — in worse case scenarios — short circuit.
It is why one hopes initiatives such as Going Digital deployed by Manteca Unified to help educate its 23,500 students will be part of a repertoire of teaching experiences and not the end all tool. The tablets can transform classrooms and engage students brought up in a world of instant gratification. But it can’t replace the one-on-one power of interacting with a teacher challenging a student to reflect upon what they are learning to develop reasoning and critical thinking skills that go a long way not just to making a person “employable” but to equip them with how to interact with others when they aren’t zooming along on the information highway texting or surfing.
There is a value in sitting under a tree on a hot summer day contemplating the clouds or laying beneath the stars on an August night pondering age old questions about the universe.
Some call it daydreams. Others say it is contemplation.
Whatever term you use, taking time to reflect and recharge is crucial to keeping an even keel.
It is why the hikes that I savor are solo affairs where I end up on a barren Sierra peak being able to see vastness for nearly a hundred miles of miles, or in a deep desert canyon dwarfed by rock walls painstakingly carved by the forces of nature in a time frame we can’t ever hope to truly comprehend.
It is atop 700-foot isolated sand dunes in Death Valley and similar venues that I do my best “slow thinking” by letting my thoughts go buffeted by the feeling you are one-on-one with yourself especially given there isn’t another soul for miles, if that
What is important in life comes into focus.
You don’t need to trek across the desert or climb a mountain to do that, although the trip to get there in itself is well worth it.
You simply need to make time where your thoughts aren’t plugged into a world where information comes at you so fast that it overwhelms the senses and puts you into survival mode without even realizing it.
Too much knowledge raining down on you is a modern-day equivalent of the London blitz. It creates a siege mentality where little nuances suddenly become life or death matters in your mind.
Your thinking becomes instantaneous and short-sighted. You forget there is a bigger stage that your life is playing out on.
There is no need to unplug as much as it is to bring balance.
Daydreaming in today’s word is considered a sin.
In reality, it is the key to making judgments on how to value knowledge, to foster creativity, to dismiss what is toxic and build on what is good.
They will never make an app for that.