In his novel ‘Nausea’, Jean-Paul Sartre suggests that at around forty, experienced professionals ‘christen their small obstinacies and a few proverbs with the name of experience, they begin to simulate slot machines: put in a coin in the left hand slot and you get tales wrapped in silver paper, put a coin in the slot on the right and you get precious bits of advice that stick to your teeth like caramels’. When I first read this passage a few weeks ago, it seemed like an apt description of a not-so-young professor writing a weekly blog.
I am on vacation combining the positive effects of reading [see ‘Reading offline‘ on March 19th, 2014] and walking [see ‘Gone walking‘ on April 19th, 2017] with a digital detox [see ‘In digital detox‘ on July 19th, 2017]; but, through the scheduling facilities provided by WordPress, I am still able to dispense my slot machine homily. I will leave you to decide which posts are from the left and right slots.
In an echo of Henry Thoreau’s retreat to the woods around Walden pond, Sylvain Tesson escaped the ugliness of modern life and spent six months in a log cabin on the shore of Lake Baikal in Siberia. He wanted to surround himself with silence in the wilderness. He kept a diary ‘as a supplement to memory, to stave off forgetting’. He describes how the act of writing ‘makes life fruitful’; how ‘the daily appointment with the blank page forces one … to listen harder, to think more clearly, to see more intently’. I have similar feelings about writing a weekly post for this blog and being faced with a blank screen each week. Sometimes it is a joy to order my thoughts and commit some of them to writing; other times it is a chore and a challenge to dream up something vaguely interesting to tell you.
BTW Teeson’s book was a pleasure to read and easier than Thoreau’s in my view.
Sylvain Teeson, Consolations of the forest: alone in a cabin in the middle Taiga, London: Penguin Books, 2014.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden, London: Penguin Classics, 2016.
I attended a workshop last month at which one of the speakers showed us this graphic. It illustrates that the volume of information available to us has been approximately doubling every year. In 2005, the digital universe was 130 Exabytes (billions of gigabytes) and by 2020 it is expected to have grown to about 40,000 Exabytes. The second law of thermodynamics tells us that entropy or disorder of the physical universe is always increasing; so, is this also true for the digital universe? Claude Shannon proposed that information is negentropy, which implies that an increasing growth in information represents a decrease in entropy and this seems to contradict the second law [see my post ‘Entropy on the brain‘ on November 29th, 2017]. Perhaps the issue is the definition of information – the word comes from the Latin: informare, which means to inform or to give someone knowledge. I suspect that much of what we view on our digital screens does not inform and is data rather than information. Our digital screens are akin to telescopes used to view the physical universe – they let us see what’s out there, but we have to do some processing of the data in order to convert it into knowledge. It’s that last bit that can be stressful if we don’t have some control mechanisms available to limit the amount of disorder that we ask our brains to cope with – we are back to Gadget Stress [see my post on April 9th, 2014] and Digital Detox [see my post on August 10th, 2016].