By Ron Young —
While much of western society has become overweight and unhealthy from the food we consume we have also become obese with information; it’s just not as evident. Great selections of edible products masquerading as food have become easily available at low cost. That faux food can fill us up and feel satisfying while robbing our bodies of essential nutrients, leading to fat, undernourished, and unhealthy bodies. It is a constant struggle to navigate the literal minefield of bad food, which in many cases is merely a chemical construct of some thing that stimulates our taste buds, fills our stomach with bulk, and feels like food but in fact is just garbage. I could go on and on about food but what I’m really thinking about right now is how we have inundated our minds with bad information and over stimulus in the same way we have polluted our bodies with bad food.
Microelectronics and computer technology, which have enabled our 21st century life, have led to an embarrassment of riches of information. While it seems we can become instant experts on every subject using the vast electronic libraries linked to our brains via tablets, phones, and computers the truth is really the opposite and it brings to mind is the phrase, “a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” It seems Sir Francis Bacon first came up with this concept in the 18th century and Alexander Pope further elaborated it with the comment:
“T’was well observed by my Lord Bacon, That a little knowledge is apt to puff up, and make men giddy, but a greater share of it will set them right, and bring them to low and humble thoughts of themselves.”
Did Pope really mean a greater share of knowledge or a greater depth of it? In the aptly named information age of today we perceive information as nutrition for our brains when in fact it is more often like junk food that costs us our life force and is too shallow to develop understanding and intellect. What we may think of as nutritional information such as current events, news, documentaries, and science programs all becomes junk when the volume increases to the point where none of it can properly be processed or understood before the next barrage of information arrives.
But what happens when you accustom yourself to a certain level of background noise and that noise keeps increasing in incremental bits? To put it another way, as the urban legend goes, if you drop a frog into hot water it will jump right back out but if you slowly bring the water from room temperature up to high temperature the frog will remain in the pot until it is overcome by the heat.
Most people I have met over the years who have chosen to live off the grid have done so to reduce the level of background noise and live a simpler life style, uncluttered with the pestering drum of advertising, organizing, and frantic activity characterized by urban life. In the beginning they didn’t have phones but eventually acquired a bag phone or radio that could be used to communicate with the outside world in an emergency. They didn’t have TV reception of any kind but sometimes owned a TV with a VCR for watching an occasional movie. They definitely did not have computers or Internet or Facebook and Twitter. But even the off the grid purists have become polluted with information overflow. Now nearly everyone who lives remotely has satellite Internet and many have satellite TV. The clatter and funk has beaten its way to their door and barged right on in.
Junk info, like junk food, can become downright addicting. As we watch movie after movie, exciting reality programs, new and addicting series, follow our friends’ antics online, tune in on the latest conflict or disaster in Bugawhereverland, we find these things increasingly determine our schedules. If there’s ever a quiet moment we feel the need to crank up the volume, listen to a radio program, switch channels, or log into something… anything. Seldom do we shut it down, step away, and internalize the content. So often you read something or watch something that invokes emotion or thoughtfulness, but before you can follow the path and examine the landscape some other distraction appears.
In 1869, while doing experiments searching for the location of the soul, German physiologist Friedrich Goltz demonstrated that a frog that has had its brain removed will remain in slowly heated water, but his intact frogs attempted to escape the water. I honestly don’t know how Friedrich managed to remove a frog’s brain and keep it alive to demonstrate this. However, today, in 2014, I think it is possible to demonstrate that without removing a humans brain you can observe how it will remain in a slowly rising flood of information until it loses it’s faculties or thought processes. Is it possible that the reason zombies fascinate many of us is because we are witnessing the loss of independent thought in our culture?
A documentary called Web Junkies, now premiering at the Sundance film festival, describes how Internet addiction and social detachment is striking nationwide concern across China. In an effort to stamp out Internet addiction disorder (IAD) China has established military-style camps where persons afflicted with compulsive Internet use (CIU) are kept behind bars, guarded by soldiers, to go cold turkey. I had to read that several times before I believed it and further research revealed that IAD camps also operate in Japan, Korea, and the US.
It’s maybe time, as a New Year dawns, to give serious thought to going truly off the grid in the only way possible for most of us. Turn off the TV, the tablet, the computer, the radio, and the phone. Take a break, look out the window, talk to someone, or just enjoy the moment. Start small, just a few minutes now and then, and build up to longer periods, just like being on a diet. Step away from the electronic grid. I saw a billboard sign a while ago that gave me pause for thought. All it said, in simple white letters on a black background was, “this is Your life.” I’m saying this is Your mind.
Ron Young is a renewable energy professional that designs and sells and installs solar, wind, and micro-hydro systems. He operates the earthRight store in Williams Lake, BC and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright Ron Young 2014