I am a proponent of learning in all its forms: I examine the past to learn from it, I believe in introspection to encourage positive change, I look forward as well as outward, so I may shape the present to achieve a desired future.
Pas moi, at least in part because learning is my lifelong companion, the god of generations of familial worship, and among my great pleasures at every stage of life.
It is a value and a passion that I hope I’ve passed along to my children.
Still, I’m well aware that there are times I’m poorly suited to learning, and equally, to being productive. Shall we say, I’ve learned the whys and wherefores of my own learning (and producing) patterns?
This morning, as I was reading “Today I Found Out,” a delightful site I subscribe to, it occurred to me that learning – in and of itself – isn’t enough. What we learn matters enormously.
That may sound obvious, but let me clarify. I’m not speaking of formalized learning we may (or may not) use, of experiential learning from our mistakes and uninformed choices, learning from the hardships that steel us and instruct us, or learning from the hapless recklessness of youth.
I’m speaking of the prevalence (abundance?) of the trivial, the peripheral, the noise packaged and presented as something we need, and masquerading as learning – which is defined as the acquisition of skills or knowledge through systematic study.
I don’t want to explicitly pick on “Today I Found Out.” It’s a cool and interesting destination, featuring tidbits on all manner of subjects. I often smile while reading, and tell myself it’s fine to take this time because I’m learning something.
The delectable offering this morning?
Apparently almonds aren’t actually nuts, peanuts aren’t actually nuts, and coffee beans aren’t beans. You get the gist. It’s fun.
But I have a busy day ahead, pressing deadlines on several items, and convincing myself those minutes (and others like them) are “learning” when they aren’t at all, well… do you see what I’m getting at?
Now consider the Internet. Multiply my example by, oh… gazillions!
How many hours do we spend chasing down trivia? Stumbling through facts and figures and fables, occasionally tripping over something glorious, but more often than not – wasting time? Do we tell ourselves we’re “learning something” and therefore it’s alright?
I’m all for the beauty of boredom – the ways in which we grant our minds essential periods of rest – but this is something else. This is habit, compulsive consumption, a sort of brain binge that knows no equalizing purge.
I believe we’re too quick to say we’re wasting our time when we veer from plan, and much may be gained from trying our hand – or mind – at a variety of activities. But rather than pursuing knowledge (or new skills, or even fun), we’ve granted permission to a subversive stream of oddities that pursue us. And it’s oh-so-easy to let our priorities slide as we succumb to the seduction of so-called information that doesn’t add to our store of abilities or experience, or serve any learning purpose whatsoever.
Note – I said learning purpose.
Enter our contemporary conundrum of overdoing rather than “mindful being.” Cue the continued conversation on “presence” and related topics.
We know we need our amusements and distractions; they ease our crazy-busy lives, help manage stress, or render an afternoon or evening more pleasant.
Still, don’t we kid ourselves in the ways we wile away the hours? Shouldn’t we distinguish learning from noise, learning from distraction, learning from killing time – so we aren’t inundated rather than assisted by all the possibilities that assault us?
Learning About Learning
Is there a place for the trivial, the peripheral, the utterly mindless?
I’m all for fun, for living fully in a complex culture in which we feel guilty about a little “self” time in pursuit of the ever elusive work-life balance – something I consider nearly impossible, but more achievable when we let ourselves off the Happiness Hook and Perfect Performance merry-go-round.
But “learning” isn’t enough if we’re learning the wrong things, or fooling ourselves into thinking we’re learning when what we’re actually doing is something else.
Possibly, enjoying a respite.
Possibly, hiding. From priorities, or from life.
Step Back, Slow Down
Many of us need to know when to say no, how to bite off less in order to accomplish more, and how to allow the mind to slow down. I’m terrible at all of this, though I’m “learning” to do better.
Perhaps if we’re working our gray matter in some fashion, the act of learning anything will keep us sharp for other tasks. Then again, will too much time on the inane and the ridiculous dull our senses, and dumb us down?
I offer no ideal formula of fanciful versus “serious” information consumption. Yet I suggest we recognize that there is knowledge we seek, knowledge that legitimately surprises (and engages) us, and everything else – some of which barrels onto our screens and into our daily readers.
Perhaps it has value as learning, or necessary distraction. But some of it, despite what we are told, is just plain nuts.