Are you amusing yourself to death?
You may get a sense by asking yourself: What have you applied from your information consumption in the last few weeks? Has the world become a better place from what you consume? How relevant is the information you consume to your life projects?
I shall take the liberty of answering for you: probably nothing.
Information in the age of social media and the internet has become primarily a means of entertainment.
This means people consume information with the primary goal of holding attention rather than sparking meaningful insight or action. Social media algorithms are designed to keep you on the app as long as possible. News outlets share urgent information every day but with nothing for you to do about it.
As an American culture, we are amusing ourselves to death.
Do any of these problems resonate:
- You feel overwhelmed by the amount of information in the digital age
- You don't know how to take notes on the information you consume
- You don't know what to consume or when to consume it
A few years ago, I experienced all of these problems.
I stuck mostly to fitness content, food reviews, and obscure documentaries on the history of peanut butter (that last one might be made up). But I escaped the entertainment trap by remodeling my information diet and learning to take notes. In this article, I will teach you how to do the same.
First, I'm going to explain the causes of our entertainment culture and the solution, remodeling your information diet and learning to take effective notes. To do this, I will be giving a book summary interpretation of Neil Postman's phenomenal work, Amusing Ourselves To Death. In the book, Postman shows how the rise of television caused a culture of entertainment in America. Despite being written in the 60s, the books themes hold true today with social media and the internet.
⚙️The Four Main Information Ages
To understand how information became synonymous with entertainment, we must dive into the evolution of information mediums.
Human society has evolved through four main information cultures.
These four cultures have been:
- Oral culture
- Typographic culture
- Television culture
- Social media culture
What humans deem important in communication changes depending upon the main information medium.
In purely oral cultures, memory is essential. There is no way to crystalize knowledge in the physical world. So people keep everything in memory.
In typographic culture, logic, reason, and the ability to argue are promoted. Typed media requires the ability to dissect propositions and fit them together into a larger whole.
In television culture, information becomes synonymous with entertainment. We'll get to why soon.
And finally, in social media culture, information becomes even more about entertainment, but at scale.
Every one of these information cultures changed the meaning of information in society. The question is, why? And how does this explain why information is seen as entertainment today? To answer that question, we must turn to the most important idea from Amusing Ourselves to Death: The Medium Is The Message.
The Medium Is The Message
Most people don't realize the medium and context content is communicated through fundamentally alters its meaning.
For example, a spoken quote reference wouldn't be sufficient evidence in Academia. This is because, generally, written words are more trustworthy in that context. They have been fact-checked, are less attached to the person saying the words, etc. So, even if the content is the same, the medium it's communicated through changes its meaning in Academia.
Mediums influence much more than the meaning of the content.
The dominant communication mediums in a society change how we sense, feel and think.
As Neil Postman describes in Amusing Ourselves To Death, "[Mediums] sometime [have] the power to become implicated in our concepts of piety, or goodness, or beauty. And [they're] always implicated in the ways we define and regulate our ideas of truth."
Don't believe me?
Think about how you are reading the words on this page.
Reading requires literacy, which requires writing and an alphabet of some sort. Humans used to communicate entirely orally. The ability to read and write was an invention. To exercise it, you had to fundamentally change the workings of your brain.
Still not convinced?
How are you organizing your day?
You're using a clock. Clocks and especially watches didn't become widespread until the Industrial Revolution. Time is a human invention. Modern-day hunter-gatherers- our best representative of what life was like before clocks-like the Hadza measure time in terms of activity, not time. Imagine telling your Professor, I'll be done with my homework after three cooking's of the egg. The Hadza would find this normal.
Cleary, the dominant communication mediums in a society have a profound effect on the minds of its citizens.
This is the most important idea of this article:
How you consume information is just as important as what you consume.
This insight is going to help us explain how America entered the current entertainment culture it's in today.
📺How America Went From Prizing Rational Discourse To Entertainment
From its founding until well into the 19th century, America prized rational discourse in its conversations and political candidtates.
As Neil Postman describes in Amusing Ourselves to Death, from the seventeenth century to the late nineteenth century, printed matter was virtually all that was available. There were no movies to see, radio to hear, photographic displays to look at, records to play.
There was no television.
It wasn't uncommon for an audience of American's to endure 7 hours of speech for a debate between party members. They had an incredible ability to comprehend lengthy and complex statements orally. Political candidates were valued based on their ability to construct, deconstruct, and put arguments to action.
Why does a typographic culture promote rational discourse?
According to Postman, a typographic culture promotes rational discourse because:
- Linear Structure and Sequentiality: Print requires ideas to be laid out in a logical, linear fashion. This structure promotes a kind of sequential reasoning where ideas build upon each other.
- Demands Active Engagement: Reading is an active process. The reader must give their full attention, process the information, and sometimes re-read sentences or passages to understand the content.
- Absence of Non-Verbal Distractions: Unlike television, which relies heavily on visuals, music, and other non-verbal cues, the printed word stands on its own. This means that the content must be strong and well-reasoned, as it can't lean on other stimuli to make its impact.
- Persistence of Print: Books, once published, remain relatively unchanged. This permanence demands a higher level of rigor and scrutiny during the writing process. In contrast, television and other electronic media are more ephemeral, with content quickly disappearing or being replaced.
- Space for Reflection: Reading allows one to pause, reflect, and come back to ideas. This "space" for thought is intrinsic to the medium, allowing readers to process and contemplate what they've consumed.
However, this all changed once television as a medium entered the mix.
Television has made entertainment the primary way Americans engage with the world.
Television combines visual and audible information with 24/7 access. The combination means consuming information takes significantly less effort and time. And once television became the dominant communication medium, it embedded itself into the lifestyles of its citizens. Americans no longer spent hours writing, reading, and listening to debates every day.
As a result, information became primarily a form of entertainment, and America as a culture started amusing itself to death.
"Americans no longer exchange ideas; they exchange images and argue with appearances and celebrities." - Neil Postman
It's only getting worse with social media and the internet.
📱Televisions Replacement In The Modern Era: Social Media + The Internet
In social media culture, information stays synonymous with entertainment, but at a greater scale than television.
The internet and social media give you access to practically any information you want, whenever you want, wherever you want. You would think this would be a great thing! Yay, we can read any books we want! But because consuming a book takes effort, most people take the easier option.
They consume from the social media algorithm.
The problem: the social media algorithm is literally designed to keep you entertained.
What do social media companies want you to do? Stay on the app longer. So, they design the algorithms to feed you information that will keep you consuming. This causes two problems: Keeps you mindlessly consuming without applying or reflecting Creates echo chambers where you get fed only information you already believe
The internet is another problem.
It decentivizes memorizing or learning things independently. Why memorize insights from a book if you can search for the answer in five seconds?
The internet and social media are giving a form of legitimacy to the idea of context-free information; the idea that the value of information need not tie to any function it might serve in social and political decision-making and action but merely to its novelty, interest, and curiosity.
Among the few who understood this consequence was Henry David Thoreau, who remarked in Walden that "We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. . . . We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough."
Yes, both social media and the internet are wonderful human inventions with many positives. But how people use them is horrible for American culture. It's taking the entertainment culture created by television and scaling it beyond proportion.
What's the solution?
✍️The Solution: Notetaking And Remodeling Your Information Diet
We have to transition back to the typographic mind of pre-television America.
We must do two things:
- Remodel our information diets
- Consume more actively through notetaking
🥗Remodel Your Information Diet
The first thing we must do is remodel our information diet.
Remember, it's not just what you consume but how you consume it that matters. Typographic America prized rational discourse mainly because they consumed information primarily through books, and oral speech based on writing.
Let's do the same. We must define a collect toolkit--3-6 quality mediums you stick to as your main information medium sources. Here's my 6-step process for creating a collect toolkit in college to ensure I eat a healthy information diet.
This is important: FOLLOW along with me as you read through. You will only learn through action. I'll go through each step with you so you have someone to do it with 😉.
Step 1: Assess Your Current Information Mediums
- Make a list of all the main information mediums you consume your information from. For me, this is:
- Blog Posts
- Academic Articles
Step 2: Rate Each Of Your Mediums On A Scale Of 0-100 For The Value They Provide To Your Life
- For me, it would look like this:
- Twitter: 75
- Books: 95
- YouTube: 70
- Podcasts: 90
- Newsletters: 70
- Blog Posts: 50
- Academic Articles: 30
- Conversation: 95
Step 3: Limit Yourself To 3-6 Of Those Mediums
- This is important. Limit yourself to consuming ONLY 3-6 of the mediums from above most days, preferably the ones of highest value.
- For me, this would be:
Step 4: Figure Out How Much Time You're Spending On Each Medium Per Week
- For me, it would look like this:
- Conversation: 420 Minutes
- Books: 360 Minutes
- Podcasts: 210 Minutes
- Newsletters: 60 Minutes
- Twitter: 210 Minutes
- YouTube: 315 Minutes
Step 5: Find Mismatches In The Time Spent On A Medium To The Value It Provides Your Life
- Which mediums did you rate high value but consuming little of?
- Which mediums did you rate low value but consuming lots of?
For me, I'm consuming too much YouTube and too little newsletters.
Step 6: Course Correct
- Make a plan for changing the time you spend consuming each information medium to reflect the value it provides.
For me, this looks like consuming less YouTube and more newsletter content.
Creating a capture toolkit ensures you consume more from mediums that provide value in your life. Not mediums that are just for entertainment.
📝Consume More Actively Through Notetaking
Secondly, you will want to build a skill of notetaking.
Notetaking is a digital superpower because it builds your critical thinking.
Critical thinking allows you to sift through the heap of informational bollywog (It's a word, I just made it up) for the best advice on health, wealth, and relationships. Thus, notetaking helps you find gold information in the three cardinal areas of life. It's not only a skill for school.
To build the skill of notetaking, check out my and fellow Obsidian creator John Mavrick’s flagship notetaking course Obsidian University: Your Secret Weapon In School. Obsidian University is a premade student vault filled with school templates, Obsidian plugins, and a tag-along course that explains how to use the various aspects of the vault and trains you in the core concepts of personal knowledge management. It's the vault we wish we had when making our Obsidian journey. In it, you will:
- Learn to get good grades in less time so you can focus on ACTUALLY enjoying college life and making memories
- Learn the best mindsets, methods, and tools for leveling up your notetaking and studying
- Learn to navigate the overwhelming amount of information in the digital age
- Build a notetaking system that compounds your knowledge across semesters
- Learn better, remember more, and become more creative
- Fall back in love with student learning
Here's what I would like to share this week.
📸News From The Channel!
📺Latest On De YouTube - How I Created My Ideal College Life Using Lifestyle Design: I'm in my fifth semester at Cornell and living my ideal college life. I'm balancing health, work, and relationships. How did I do this? Lifestyle Design. Lifestyle design is the art of creating and adapting your life to resonate with you. In this video, I'll show you how to do it!
🎙️Latest On De Podcast - E27 Theo Stowell How To Mix Creativity And Action With The PARAZETTEL System: Theo Stowell is a Uni Student and full-time content creator. He has created a custom PKM system mixing together Tiago's PARA framework with the Zettelkasten developed by Nikolas Luhman into PARAZETTEL. Now he's sharing his learnings about Personal Knowledge Management, and his journey in content creation and self-actualization online.
In this podcast you will learn:
- How to boost your creativity and get things done with
- Theo's custom-made PARAZETTEL system
- How to balance content creation and schoolwork
💡My Best Insights:
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📰Blog Post - Mental Aesthetics: Like we can train our physical body to become more muscular, we can train our mind to become more focused and intentional. Through mental aesthetics we can make the world a better place. We solve our own problems and then figure out how to solve them at scale through the internet, raising the collective consciousness.
📺YouTube Video - OUTWORK Everyone By Being Bored: Boredom is an incredible cultivator of creativity. But most people distract themselves the moment they feel bored. They go on their phones, talk to someone, etc. This keeps your brain from entering the default mode network and coming up with ideas from what you have been consuming. Instead, you should give yourself space to feel bored. Have times during the day where you aren’t connected to anything. Day dreaming, ruminating, or just being.
✨Quote Of The Week - "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." - Walden