Too Much Information

Do away with all fancies. Cease to be passion’s puppet. Limit time to the present. Learn to recognize every experience for what it is, whether it be your own or another’s.— Marcus Aurelius

There is a character in a Ray Bradbury short story who lives in an out of the way place and only receives old newspapers. Over time he has made it a habit never to read about events that are current. That way he is less likely to get excited or upset about what is happening elsewhere, especially since he has no control over these things that are often remote to his immediate concerns.

The mania for information is nothing new. In the first half of the nineteenth century James Fenimore Cooper and Søren Kierkegaard complained about the burgeoning craze for daily newspapers, full of scandals, mishaps and political inanity. Today’s glut of data via television and the internet is merely the proximate cause of our distraction. The real responsibility, as Marcus Aurelius pointed out centuries ago, remains with us. While contemplating eternity, a responsible life means dealing with our immediate duties. The main reason that we get distracted is because we are impatient, lazy or inclined to worry more than we should. Perhaps the best remedy is a passage I found in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

Once when Antony was living in the desert his soul was troubled by boredom and irritation. He said to God, “Lord, I want to be made whole and my thoughts do not let me. What am I to do about this trouble, how shall I be cured?” After a while he got up and went outside. He saw someone like himself sitting down and working, then standing up to pray; then sitting down again to make a plait of palm leaves, and standing up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct Antony and make him vigilant. He heard the voice of the angel saying, “Do this and you will be cured.”

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