Choosing Ignorance

“I don't know." That was typical Sajaki; like all the genuinely clever people Sylveste had met he knew better than to feign understanding where none existed.” 
― Alastair Reynolds, Revelation Space


¨Ignorance is bliss¨

We hear it all the time. But often in a way that's lighthearted or directed towards anyone BUT us. Ignorance may be bliss -- for the people who are ignorant. But that's not me. I am smart. I would never choose to be ignorant of anything. Right?

One of my core values is intelligence. It’s the one thing I’ve defined myself by more than anything else. I was always the smart kid in school, graduating high school when I was just 15. I used to annoyingly tell everyone that yes, I was a teacher, but I didn’t like, major in education or anything. I majored in a real subject, where students had high ACT scores, and didn't get easy A’s (how anyone could stand me, I don’t know). But, as college moves further into the past (10 years since graduation — yikes), I can’t define myself by the same metrics. And the older I get, the less I care about those metrics. In fact, the older I get, the less I want to know. Let me explain.

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I used to "care" about everything. I’d read about everything, whether it interested me or not — so that I could have something interesting to say. And I still do that — but with really selective things. For example, I have a friend working on a film about Hunter S. Thompson. We went to brunch and I had nothing interesting to add — so I read two of his books this week. Extreme? Obsessive? Yes, all of the above of course. But I was interested in him! I still am. (and I’m scouting book three now)

It’s who I am. I am obsessive with knowledge. I naturally want to know everything. But like any obsession, it can take me to extremes. Unhealthy ones. Which is why I’ve decided to actively keep myself from “knowing it all”. 

Selective ignorance.

It’s something I think about a lot. Ignorance to the things that I don’t need or want to know. The things that fill up my brain unnecessarily. Mental clutter. TMI. Whatever you want to call it -- the information that really isn't necessary for happiness unless you're a professional bar trivia player. 

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So what do I mean exactly? Well, of course, like most things in the zeitgeist, it comes back to Facebook (ha -- I wish I was joking). I read that something like 90% of people on Facebook “stalk” their ex or their ex’s ex or future ex — whatever. We don’t need data (although there is plenty), to tell us that this isn’t going to help anyone get over anything — and yet it’s become a normal part of the relationship cycle. Something that, allegedly, “we all do”. Well, I don’t. I used to, sure, but I haven’t in years. 

I unfollow anyone I’ve dated (sometimes even when we are still dating) on Facebook so I don’t see all their updates, tagged photos, events they’re interested in, and pretty girls they become friends with. I don’t want to know. And I actually don’t. So I don’t look. Selective ignorance. I don’t have the mental bandwidth to make assumptions (that are probably wrong) about anyone. Seek and you will find — and I don’t have the energy to find. I am too old, and too busy (reading HST books, apparently) for that. 

I also don’t look at the following page on Instagram. I haven’t seen it in — literally — years. I don’t want to know what pictures the guy who hasn’t text me back is liking. Not only does knowing not change anything, but it takes up precious mental energy that I don't have to give. 

I don’t look at most people’s Instagram stories (even though I constantly post them myself whoops), I don’t have Snapchat, and I don’t check Facebook messages. Ever. 

People always tell me, I just HAVE to get Snapchat, or I HAVE to check my messages or whatever and I just tell them the truth — I already have too many internet things. I don’t have the time, or the desire to fill my brain up with any more. I am ignorant to a lot of it — and that is fine. 

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And it’s not just social media (there’s more to life, did you know? :)) I don’t check my work email outside of work. I don’t read all of the group texts. I don’t finish books that I don’t love. I don’t watch anything but the local news. I don't read trashy magazines (except on a plane duh). I just don’t care. I don’t have the time. I’m fine with not knowing about the new I-can’t-even-think-of-a-pop-star-because-I’m-that-out-of-touches album. I’m fine with not knowing that any of the summer blockbusters are even movies much less care that I haven't seen them. I’d rather spend my time on the things I truly love. And no one can do it all. 

We all have those friends that have an opinion on everything. Or, at least, are fast Googlers to make it appear in the group text that they do. My natural tendency is to be this way ("this way" = annoying know it all). Ask me what I think about ______ thing I don't know and I immediately feel a little (a lot) ashamed. I should know everything, damnit!

I have a lot of interests. A lot of hobbies. I read a lot of books. A lot of articles. Blogs. I watch documentaries. I listen to podcasts. It’s a lot. But it’s still a minuscule amount of the information that is out there. We live in a world of constant media. You could stay up all night every night following every link that’s posted on Facebook or Twitter and still not have enough information to intelligently discuss all of them.

But what I've come to realize is: why would you want to? To make it clear that you are a smart person? Because it sort of indicates the opposite, in my opinion. 

I had this friend once who would always use semicolons in text messages. Like, every message. In a way that was not natural or made sense at all. I am (obviously) not one to criticize anyones grammar, but I remember wondering what they thought they had to prove. Do you want me, your friend for years, to know that you understand that punctuation exists? Oh okay. It’s like a Napoleon Complex — what are you trying to overcompensate for? I mean, obviously she can use whatever punctuation she wants if that's something she values, but I could care less about any kind of punctuation, capitalization etc in a text. I have better things to do, and no one to impress with a weird semicolon. 

That’s the key to selective ignorance — I’m not actually ignorant. I am just choosing the information that I care about. I’m giving my mind the space to read a bunch of gonzo journalism for a few weeks for no reason other than I’m interested in it if I choose to. That’s reason enough. 

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So how do you decide what to remain ignorant to? And how do you actually do it? 

Like everything else in life, it comes down to your values. I value intelligence, but I also value my time, my hobbies, and rest. And what don’t you value? I don’t value being the know it all, the jack of all trades (but master of none), or the Facebook creeper. 

Maybe you value semicolons in text messages -- that´s fine. You do you, boo. Just make sure what you are doing is for the right reasons. (i.e. reasons other than feeling better or smarter or one upping others)

Think about the small things you do and the information you absorb in the same way you might track your health in a food journal. After I read/see/talk to/etc _________ I feel _______. If it´s not a good feeling, or it causes you to spiral into unhealthy time wasting -- cut it out of your life. 

If something isn't enriching you it's depleting you. Get it out. 

But how do you remain selectively ignorant in a world of constant information overload?

Just don’t do stuff. I mean, really. I put restrictions on myself. When I realized I was getting upset over what I was seeing on someones Instagram story, I stopped watching their story. And as stupid (and immature and tweenish yikes I hope you still respect me) as that sounds, I think there are a lot of small things like that that really affect our days. Things that we think “everyone does” or are just a reflex, but really have a power to change our mood. So just don’t do them. Easier said than done, sure. But we are adults here. We are powerful and capable and in control. The more you do the more you can do, remember. 

I think it´s natural to care less about the noise as we get older. When you start working you are forced to continually narrow your focus and become an expert in one field. But realize that it´s okay to be the beginner in most of the others. To not know. To not be the weird semicolon girl. To say you don't know something. To ask for help -- or not. It's okay to be okay with not knowing.