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If an unscrupulous business conglomerate suddenly decided to start pouring an endless stream of noxious sewage into what had once been a pristine lake renowned for its natural beauty, it probably wouldn’t take long for people to get pissed off and start complaining… and yet day after day, the conscious and subconscious minds of the hapless inhabitants of the 21st century are subjected to pretty much this exact same process… only we’re either too dazed by the smog to notice, or too burnt out by the daily grind to even care. Let’s face it, the modern world is a fleapit of unwanted and harmful advertising; irrelevant and counterproductive information; fatuous and emotive media narratives; and an ever-growing stockpile of fundamentally useless information. By the time you make it to work in the morning you’ve already been hit by the TV, the radio, the cereal packet, the billboard, the bumper sticker, the newspaper, the internet… a constant babble of ceaseless mental pollution ever more aggressively encroaching upon that tiny safe-house of silence and tranquility deep inside each and everyone of us. And as our media augmented reality quickens the pace at which we have to process and manage all of this information still further, I can’t help wondering how much is enough? Is it healthy? And where in the name of God is the “off switch”?

Drip…drip…drip… the Chinese water torture of a million negative words and images as they sink into the watercourse of our psyches. And if it’s “all in there somewhere” – just think about the sheer volume of soul destroying anti-matter each and every one of us has sucked up over the years! Of course, the single most frustrating thing about stress and burnout and overload, isn’t so much the fact that it exists, as the fact that we did it to ourselves… pointlessly… and that even as we sit here now, passively observing an ever growing explosion of mental health issues and stress related illnesses, every facet of our lives continues to accelerate at ever more dazzling speed towards a brick wall of knowledge and information so dense in its construction that we will be smashed to pieces on impact. Is it any wonder that people are breaking the windows and jumping out?

Maybe an endless supply of facts and knowledge isn’t such a great thing after all? If your mind is crammed to bursting point with a million useless trivialities about pop star’s tattoos and diet pills, how are you ever going to function with any sort of meaningful clarity or purpose? And, if you take the alternative line and dedicate yourself to the conquest of specifics; if you study for ten years and become the world’s leading authority on millipedes or sandpaper, how will that possibly help to enrich your daily experience? How will it help you to become a more rounded or multi-dimensional human being? In this so called “age of information” how many people have genuinely useful information at their disposal, not necessarily a cure for cancer, but the sort of simple practical awareness that must have existed before the likes of Adam Smith and Henry Ford came along and pushed hands and minds in separate directions. How many people can make a chair for instance, or cultivate a field, or dig a well?

Of course, it’s also worth noting that plenty of knowledgeable people out there are complete wankers… whereas plenty of men and women who have never so much as picked up a newspaper in their entire lives have souls as pure as the driven snow. Maybe intuition and instinct and compassion are what matter most in the world? Maybe we’ve evolved these massive brains so that we can turn our intellects to the service of loving kindness? Maybe the fact that we’re slowly burying our true natures under an ever growing mountain of information is nothing more than a terrible mistake… because we can’t get our heads around the fact that answers create questions as much as questions create answers… and that our quest for knowledge is a desert without end… an abyss… an addiction.

Consider for example the nightly soap-opera of news broadcasts beamed into our living rooms: a series of shitty things will have happened to people who don’t deserve it… an expert or two will have been plucked from obscurity for the day to explain why we should be angry about something we’d never even thought about… somebody in a position of responsibility will pretend to be working terribly hard for our collective benefit… a minor celebrity will have been publicly humiliated or disgraced so that we can waggle our heads and feel better about the state of our own morality… and an enemy of whichever political state we happen to belong to will makes us feel small and insecure and desperately in need of our big brother governments……… Given the more or less static nature of this formula, what is it that keeps us tuning in every day so that we can consider ourselves well informed?

Are the full frontal pornographic details of somebody else’s misery really helping me to become a less ignorant, wiser and more knowledgeable individual? Or is it enough to know that there is suffering in the world and step back? Even if we consider ourselves to be the sort of clued-up human beings that have smugly transcended the petty trivialities of the gossip column and reality TV, we could easily spend our entire lives intravenously consuming serious, meaningful “information” without ever actually lifting a finger to make positive change. Worse still, we could get so hardened to images of human pain and degradation that we ceased to even feel moved by them anymore. It seems to me that there is a vast difference between living in a world with poverty and famine, and living in world of information about poverty and famine. And though nobody could deny that there are instances in which information is good and necessary, when it helps and guides and directs; in an age that is as obsessed by information as our own, that literally worships information like a new religion, we seem to have reached some sort of vital tipping point. Even the most important information is lost amongst the pointless; is weakened by its own endless replication and dissemination; is at risk of being trivialized by the readiness of its own availability in evermore disneyfied and parodic forms. With so few needles and so many haystacks, wouldn’t it have been better to have unplugged ourselves from the white noise of incoming information altogether, and to have gone off and made that chair instead?

And if I seem strangely fixated with the idea of going off and making chairs all the time, I apologise… it’s just that it’s on my bucket list, and I’m incredibly envious of anybody who has the necessary skills. There’s something beautifully concrete about making a chair – it seems to present the perfect balance of mind and body, and belongs to the world of real things like trees and people and dogs’ wet noses, the world of actual tangible problems like needing somewhere to sit. Making a chair is like catching a fish and cooking it for dinner – a tangible whole that exudes a sort of natural integrity because there is a very obvious and real point to it. Making chairs and catching fish stand in glorious and direct opposition to the daily toils of our own world… with all of its utterly pointless graphs and pie charts and po-faced interactions… its stressful juggling of emails and meetings and working lunches. Call me cynical, but I can’t help thinking that making a PowerPoint to explain to your boss why the dip in expected sales predictions still adheres to the amended version of the 5 point progress model, isn’t actually real. Not in any meaningful sense of the word anyway. It’s smoke and mirrors. Pushing around bits of nothing and rearranging them because you need a paycheck. If it never happened it wouldn’t matter. If it took place in front of a tribesman he wouldn’t be impressed or care to learn its ways.

When you really get down to it, is a human being an indiscriminate filing cabinet full of other people’s information… or a playful, sociable mammal?! Are we biological life forms or cold grey components in the gargantuan super-computer that passes for modern life? Should we really be burning ourselves out writing reports… so that other people can have meetings… so that other people can send emails… so that we can all run around and write even more reports and have even more meetings and send even more emails… or should we be lying on the grass staring at the clouds?

It’s time that we reassessed just what the hell we’re doing with all of this information we’re able to generate and disseminate… and trust once more to our instincts and our intuition… relearn (through play and spontaneity, laughter and interaction) what it actually means to be human.

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Switch off the television

Switch off the laptop

Switch off the radio… and the mp3… and the mobile phone…

Poke around in the silence for a little while.

Rediscover the feeling of having a thought which is in no way connected to a piece of incoming information…

Experience an emotion that isn’t the direct result of something you’ve just had injected into your brain by the media.

Let it go…

All of it…

Even that bit you’re still clinging on to…

Let it all go…

Seriously, all of it…

Kick back and relax

Take it easy

Stop

Breathe

Step out of your own way

Chill the fuck out…

And be happy in the knowledge that sometimes (especially if you’re swinging back and forth in a hammock) to learn less, is to know more.