The Dangerous Effects of Reading

I am working out of a massive office building in one of those little commercial compounds this week. The entire area has all sorts of nice things - a paper-printing shop, coffee, sushi, burritos, dry cleaners, even food carts most days. Cellphone coverage is near 100%, free WiFi is everywhere, lots of places to park and work, etc. There is even a formal attire shop with adult prom dresses.

The entire area is optimized for staying there and working. Because it is optimized for this, it is hard to do other things: drive a car around, go jogging, throw a Frisbee, interview people on the street, walk your dog, violently start or stop a parade, etc.

In our personal lives we tend to optimize for one of two things: input or output. Reading or writing. Consuming or creating. The environment we live in - the prevailing culture - by default is optimized for consumption. Even our personal computers are turning into devices that are optimized for consumption! This is terrible and dangerous.

A life optimized for consuming might look like this:

Consuming this much makes you get really good at filtering crap from gold. Everything you pick up to read or watch you are constantly thinking “Does this suck? Is this cool enough to continue doing? Is it cool enough to tell others people about?

Is it bad to think like this all the time? Absolutely - it is like a bucket of glitter dumped on your head levels of bad. Come on - isn’t consuming just learning? Reading and learning are great - but over-consumption changes the way that you think:

I think we should all agree that getting faster at judging things is bad, but I think the real danger in having a super-efficient-filter is that your default mode is exclusion - you reject long enough and you lose the ability to create things that pass your own filter. You stagnate at work for fear of everything you do being judged like every news article or viral video that you view.

So how do you break the power of consumption? By creating your own things. All the things you consume - somewhere somebody is making all this stuff, right?

Normally when people think of creating or innovation they think of a naked hippie standing in the woods painting a tree, an alcoholic writer slaving away at a sad tale of a small town, or some tech geek coming up with some new way to annoy everyone by sharing every detail of their pointless life. It doesn’t have to be that complex. Adding anything (not just your opinion) to the world is creating - writing, drawing, dancing (not line-dancing which is not art but instead some sort of long-term psychological annoyance stress test).

If the world overwhelms you with its constant production of useless crap which you filter more and more to things that only interest you can I calmly suggest that you just create things that you like and cut out the rest of the world as a middle-man to your happiness? From where I sit creating things does the following:

when you don’t create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability. your tastes only narrow & exclude people. so create.

But how do you optimize for creating?

If you quiet your mind and allow yourself to stop judging everything you will find that you have more potential for innovation (at work, in the kitchen, in the garage, in the bathroom [this just got weird - bringing it back], with your hobbies, with your thoughts) than you thought before. You were using the same brutal quality filter on yourself that you used on viral videos, talk radio, and blog posts. You deserve better.