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Too much information? Saturday August 23, 2014

"Every reader finds themself; The writer's work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this blog, they would perhaps never have seen in themself."

As an avid reader, this [mis]quote hits home. Reading is my coping mechanism. Presented with a problem, my instinctive reaction is to buy a book (or five).

It started as a child at the library, where you could take out six books at a time. One day I discovered the self-help section. From then on I'd regularly leave with an armful of self-help books. I rarely read them all, but their mere presence in my house was a comfort. I discovered that same comfort at university, when buying all my course books and stacking them up made me suddenly feel smarter.

Today, I treat Amazon like my library. I buy vast swathes of books. Some sit, like a comfort blanket, on my bookshelves. Others are read – occasionally all the way to the end. I supplement these books with an inbox flooded with blog posts and TED Talks and 'Thought of the day' emails.

With the rise of the internet, the number of writers has grown exponentially. The volume of content available is mushrooming by the day. We have access to a vast sea of thoughts within which to see ourselves. Yet all of these words are nothing more than a distraction if the reader doesn't use them effectively.

Taking in all of this information is clearly impossible.

I attempted to implement a strategy with the books and blogs that I read. I read very quickly, marking things to revisit and reflect on as I go. Yet I rarely return to reflect on these thoughts. Instead, I move onto the next question and the next question. I search in more and more places for answers, but never take the space to think about the clues.

Today, I have realised that the most important part of reading is the thoughts triggered afterwards. The words on the page are just an optical instrument, and we must take time to look through it. Without time to process our thoughts, all we see is glass.

Books are comforting because they suggest the solution to our problems lies externally. This is comforting, but flawed. Whatever our mode of searching – books, meditation, travel - the answer will always lie back inside of us. Our task is to create an environment where we can hear the answer from inside.

So, how do we create space to process all of this information? Well, I've decided to take the first step of reducing the stream of incoming information. This year I'm giving myself just four books to fully explore this year, two of which I have already read. And I'm unsubscribing from all but one blog – Moodscope.

I hope that you have time to think and reflect on these blogs, so that they can serve as an optical instrument for you too.

A Moodscope member.

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Sally Sat, Aug 23rd 2014 @ 9:21am

Brilliant Nicola, thank you for today's blog. I see myself clearly in your description - and I think that, for me, there can be a further trap in the 'reflecting' stage, although I do value it. The stage that counts - I think and hope - is the action stage, when reflecting has led me to do things differently (as in Fiona's blog yesterday). One hopeful thing is that sometimes the reflection seems to lead to new actions without my having to decide on them consciously. The subconscious is a wonderful thing! Wishing you well .... Sally

Les Sat, Aug 23rd 2014 @ 10:11am

A very wise blog as most people are lost in 'busyness' continually seeking answers externally - escaping.
There is only one real journey for peace and happiness - inside - 'inscaping'.
All power to your pen

g. Sat, Aug 23rd 2014 @ 10:57am

Nicola , you hit the nail on the head . My friend explained life to me thus.It consists of two parts : consuming and producing and balance is crucial for our mental health.Actually the happiest are the producers as consuming happens automatically and feeds the creative process.

Mary Blackhurst Hill Sat, Aug 23rd 2014 @ 11:54am

That first quote of your is spot on. As a writer one has to learn that, once your piece of writing goes into the world, you have absolutely no control over how people read it and react to it. Sometimes you look at comments and say "but that's not what I meant; that's not what I meant at all! " But the reader has created their own meaning and that is what it means for them.
And, of course, the whole thrust of your excellent post was about something quite different to the small piece I've chosen to comment on. Point made!

Tim Clayton Sat, Aug 23rd 2014 @ 12:50pm

Beautifully put (and accurately, imho). I used to occasionally wander the streets hoping to bump into some stranger who would prophetically utter the magic trigger, meaningless to them, which would begin the domino-effect leading to My Cure. It never did happen, though my mind did make some pretty imaginative leaps between bizarre events, and concoct potentially helpful avenues. No, "inscaping" it has to be, hard though it is. And better when accompanied, I think, by some guiding guru, wizard, or fellow Hobbit.

Anonymous Sat, Aug 23rd 2014 @ 1:07pm

Outstanding. Just what I needed to read as a writer, reader, and thinker.
Thanks Nicola

Anonymous Sat, Aug 23rd 2014 @ 1:38pm

Perhaps there is a balance to strike between in- and es-caping. Of course, given the overabundance of information in our environments, perhaps it makes sense to lean as far toward no information.

Personally, I find myself in the same state. Constant information that, lacking appropriate reflection, does not percolate to wisdom.

Simplicity and silence are critical; Nicola, you post has inspired me to turn the volume down as you have. Thank you.

Theresa NZ Sat, Aug 23rd 2014 @ 2:48pm

YES. I am discovering this Mary.

Theresa NZ Sat, Aug 23rd 2014 @ 2:49pm

Y E S. Thank you Nicola.

Melanie Lowndes Sat, Aug 23rd 2014 @ 3:00pm

This mirrors a thought I had just today - I said to myself - maybe instead of going from one book to the next to the next - all of which provoke insights and make me feel I am progressing although sometimes I feel I don't make full use of the one I am reading now - maybe I should read one book over and over and get everything I can from it. Not sure yet whether I will do as you are doing but it is an interesting reflection. Thank you.

Anonymous Sun, Aug 24th 2014 @ 1:53pm

Your article really struck me as being true to me. Thank you. I have so many books which seem to promise 'the answer' but I only get 1/3 or 1/2 way through them before another one turns my head.

lel Mon, Aug 25th 2014 @ 4:23pm

Very useful post. Thank you.

Helen Mon, Aug 25th 2014 @ 5:09pm

Absolutely right for me too. It started with my divorce, then came the avenue of study, which still continues, then came the diagnosis for my son. By this time the fiction escapism books went right out the window. But as you say I do find comfort in having books around me and have an aversion to the latest gadgets that replace them. I think it has something to do with my love of trees, but that's a whole new subject. I have had this feeling of trying to absorb the information I need from the books and have loads of them with sticky page markers throughout the book, as markers of information that I need to reflect upon, but I just get overloaded by the volume (please excuse the pun) of it all. I even find a fiction book a welcomed well earned rest from the I Must read and Learn all I can senario I have lumbered myself with. But this makes me realise it takes the pleasure of reading away. So having been reminded to act, and inspired to step back and look at the books I have, I will now make a resolutions to review step by step and book by book. Not to buy another until this task is done, and to stop cramming my head and relax with a novel when the urge takes me. Thank You

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