Slow Fast Near Far

I think (and write) about consumption a lot, because—as someone who loves to create things—what I consume informs what I produce, and the time and energy I spend consuming are resources I cannot use to make things.

Consequently, I use several mental models to help keep things balanced, and one of them is focused on the perceptual distance of what I’m taking in.

World news contains data about things happening far away: on the other side of the planet, or even off-planet, at times.

Local news contains similar information about what’s happening in my country, city, or even neighborhood, but typically relates to people I don’t personally know or even necessarily know of.

Information about my friends and family—their struggles and stresses, victories and accomplishments—is also news, though of a far more personal flavor.

Things happening in my own life, my own household, my own in-person relationships are still-closer at hand, and more directly influence the shape of my day-to-day life.

And my internal ebbs and flows, efforts and goals, curiosities and experiments are the most local news of all: tucked within my own brain and body, informing how I think, what I do, and the choices I make.

All of these informational orbits are important, and all may impact my life to varying degrees.

A disaster in China might not seem immediately relevant to my day, but that disaster could spark supply chain ripples that eventually increase the cost of the smartphone I was planning to buy, which could mean I have to perform more hours of paid labor to earn the money necessary to buy it.

An obscure change in city policy may not seem important to understand, at first, but that change may eventually lead to a shift in traffic patterns, economic hardships for friends, or the closure of a beloved neighborhood bookstore.

Perceptually near or far, then, all of these information sources transmitting information across chronological, cultural, regional, and proximate strata can ultimately shape the course of my life (even if the path from A to B isn’t always clear).

Information also arrives at different speeds and cadences.

A book is less likely to imbue up-to-the-millisecond information, but it may deliver data and narrative with greater depth and substance than what’s contained within the average tweet or TikTok video.

Similarly, while quick sips of gossip consumed with a morning coffee and enjoyed with a friend from work has value, so too do longer, more meandering and philosophically robust conversational explorations.

All sources are thus potentially worthy of my time and attention, however fast they move and however distant (and intuitively irrelevant) their origin may seem.

But some sources have gotten very, very good at grabbing and holding attention—at times to the detriment of those who are grabbed.

Social media and other online entertainments are obvious examples of successful attention-hoarders, but it’s also possible—depending on the source and your personal preferences—to be enthralled by world news, long, meandering works of literature, or ultra-local conversations with neighbors and colleagues.

Because of those focus-attracting optimizations and our personal preferences, we’re prone to overcompensation in one or several directions, which can result in an imbalanced informational diet.

I find that thinking in these terms—balance and imbalance—helps me maintain a decent input equipoise most of the time, because it reminds me of the value of sources to which I’m not naturally drawn.

I love reading and analyzing the news and am less latently fascinated by gossip and social media, but there’s something to be gained from those latter two sources of information, as well, and I’m a more well-rounded person when I semi-regularly tap into what’s happening in those social spaces, even if doing so requires a bit of conscious effort.

I’m also keen on books and other slow sources of information, but tend to get more out of them when they’re accentuated and seasoned with shorter commentary from informed folks on Twitter and analysts sharing their thoughts via essays and newsletters.

We’re all shaped differently in terms of our balances, overbalances, and where we could use a little structural reinforcement: which tiny informational muscles we might exercise more frequently to maintain a more well-rounded, sustainable, comprehension-related posture long-term.

One way to assess your current info-ingestion situation is to look at where your information comes from, figure out which orbits—which informational distances—you’re lacking, and then experiment with other ranges, consumption rhythms, and sources.

From there it’s a matter of seeking balance, avoiding strain, and tweaking your formula over time.

If you enjoyed this essay, consider supporting my work by buying me a coffee :)

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