Stepping Back From Too Much

It’s now 2020. The beginning of a new year and, depending on how your definitions are set up, a new decade. It is my hope that this year and the years following, we’ll see that there are a lot of facets to our lives where patterns, trends, and forces have simply become too much.

Too Much Transparency

Democracy might die in darkness, but it will burn in the light of a thousand suns. We have almost too much insight into the turnings of the wheels. Enough for everyone to be furious. Enough for shallow thinking and the always-on, reality show nature of modern politics to make actual leadership impossible. When it’s more important to score points than to compromise and get things done then our ability to collectively respond to a changing world becomes crippled.

Too Much News

Early in 2018, I stepped away from the news. It’s become a vacuous, attention-seeking, divisive race to the bottom. Everything is cranked up to 11 and all sides are up in arms about whatever it is that happened in the last 20 minutes. I’m all about being an informed citizen, but the cacophony has simply become too much, the sources too polarized, the talking heads too disingenuous. There’s too much noise and not nearly enough signal. In the scheme of things, most news isn’t significant. The time of maximum inaccuracy is also the time of maximum exposure. This is obviously not ideal. Let things calm down and then find out what actually happened.

Too Much Distraction

Time is the only finite resource that really matters in the end. Yet we spend it frivolously, mindlessly and hand our limited attention to those who would profit from it. It’s a golden age of entertainment, but if we don’t curate our inputs then we can lose massive swaths of our day to games, websites, streaming services, television and all the other distractions that are only a click away. All the while, we lose out on the opportunity to use that time for growth, connection, meaning, and contribution. The things that matter. The things that actually build a life.

Too Much Information

The previous points all boil down to this - the Information Age is fully upon us and our stone-age brains are not set up to handle the volume of data, entertainment, and opinion that is being shoved at us from every direction. Our shared reality now has fault lines and it’s entirely too easy to get lost in the small rectangular screen that each of us stares at for too long each day.

Too Much Self

I’m all about cultivating resilience and self-esteem, but you have to work on it. Somewhere along the way we became more concerned with how people feel about themselves than with teaching them how to do things in the world that would foster those feelings. We’ve become a culture of interconnected low-grade narcissists chasing whatever game-able metrics we can get from Instagram, TikTok, job titles, and net worth. And no, this isn’t meant to bash Millennials. This has been the accumulation of wrong-thinking on a timescale of multiple generations (including mine and my parents). Our culture used to be predicated on character and contribution, now it’s all about ego and esteem.

Too Much Division

Your politics are wrong. I can say that without even knowing what they are. Because the world is complicated and there’s no way any one human can have the exact right model of how it should go. Yet we often take these simplistic models and foolishly make them part of our identity. Those who think differently from you are not evil. They might even have good ideas.

Too Much Care

I’m going to share a deep personal insight with you - people suck. But they arguably suck less than they used to. Yet somehow we have less tolerance. Our indignation and outrage move like waves across social media. Amid all the virtue signaling, name-calling, arguments, cowardice, and political correctness, the innocent can be thrown on the sacrificial altar just as often as the guilty. Sometimes, people are assholes. More often, they are good people that make mistakes.

Too Much Short-Term Thinking

A number of problems that we face will require thinking and planning on extended time horizons. We seem incapable of that. A decade is an eternity when you can’t move past the 24 hour news coverage, the next financial quarter, or an election cycle. Individuals should have five and ten year plans. Larger collectives of people (corporations, nations) should have even longer time horizons to build projects and address problems. Note, this is not an argument for longer political terms. Solving other problems in our political system could also contribute to solving this (e.g., term limits, campaign finance reform).

Maybe it’s always been like this. But at some point it seems like we collectively transitioned to a completely different world in the last ten years. We lost nuance, an understanding of context, and our ability to extend each other some grace. All the systems of interconnection, information, consumerism, and attention have created feedback loops that are unhealthy for us as individuals and communities. We have to be more diligent. Have some humility, have some gratitude, have some vision. Take a step back, put aside the ego and tribal thinking, and ask where it has all become too much.