The Adolescent Age of Information

the brain with a matrix-style overlayIt might seem like the Information Age has been fatally corrupted with the election of our current POTUS, but I’m here to say that even though we have taken a few (okay, several) steps back, the work is far from over, and the future remains bright. What we as a culture suffer from now is the inability to deal rationally with the trove of data that is released upon us at every moment of our waking lives. Like children struggling to navigate the new responsibilities of independence, we have not yet figured out how to regulate our impulses in favor of deliberation and sound judgment. We give in to spontaneous reactions to “breaking” news without having all the facts, then vehemently defend our ill-conceived opinions due to the devastating effect admitting a mistake would have on our pride and self-perceived identity. Plus, it’s just easier to lump every headline under umbrella categories for which we’ve already formed opinions. And while there is no stopping the information (short of self-quarantine, which I do endorse in regular doses), we will get better at processing and evaluating what we hear. We will adapt. Reading and learning is hard. As adults, we are (will be) more willing to take on the challenge.

If this sounds like a problem we have faced all throughout history, it is. We humans have always been a gullible folk, and we believe whatever is easiest to believe. The difference today is the pace at which we encounter new information. Instantaneous global communication has created such an anxiety that careful consideration seems antiquated. Pause is no longer efficient, there’s just too much to take in. And, by the way, this is a problem for people at both ends of the spectrum of impressionability – those who don’t believe anything, and those who too willingly believe everything. Neither group has a healthy relationship with truth, although at least they are easy to spot, each often castigating the other for their polarity. We would do well to avoid both.

What you know best becomes what you know to be the best. Maturity has never been easy and won’t be now. Beliefs and opinions are often dependent upon incidence by default, and this bias is extremely difficult to overcome. You are very likely to identify with the political party and the religious denomination of your parents because you’ve had more exposure to those ideas than any others. This is already well-known to be true in the general terms of politics and religion, but what about more nuanced categories, such as science, media, education? Your level of exposure to an issue has enormous bearing on your ability to decipher the news and filter the fake from the real. If you have limited knowledge about a topic, your natural inclination is to find some association with knowledge you do have, basing your judgment on a larger theme of discourse. This coping mechanism is not without merit, for our understanding of one realm does and should inform our understanding of another. However, we should be sure to appreciate complexity and the consequence of unique variables. And now more than ever, we have access to the tools necessary for objective judgment. Listen to those who spend their lives working on an issue, look for consensus, and be willing to admit ignorance.

The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. This brings me to a primary lesson I keep coming back to in my studies: humility.  It takes far more courage to admit when knowledge is lacking than to scream in protest when your stance is contested. We just haven’t yet found the courage to learn rather than scream. This makes our present situation all the more difficult, but we’ll get there. Slowly, perhaps painfully, knowledge will eventually win out. It always does.




Not that you asked, but my opinion on New Year’s resolutions? Make em! Have goals. But be flexible.

Some people are self-obstructively binary about these things by setting a narrow goal and declaring the resolution broken at the first sign of delinquency, or worse, avoiding making a resolution at all because the odds of remaining completely faithful to it are slim. You may say you want to join a gym, go for two weeks, miss the first day of the third week and never visit the gym again. Or you may say you want to quit smoking, you make it through the first day, light up due to some trigger and retreat back into the same old habits the very next day. Diet. Acts of kindness. Writing. These are just examples from my own personal experience, but you have your own. I like to think I’ve matured somewhat over the years. I’m a lot more flexible about goals and resolutions, and I’m a lot more forgiving of myself as a consequence. Leniency seems to me to be a much more successful tactic to achieving a goal than trying to be “motivated” or even “realistic” (neither of which are bad advice, just not very helpful, imho). Just know that it’s okay to take things slow. Making a New Year’s resolution isn’t going to be like flipping a switch – you have all year. The important thing is to make the adjustment an important part of your daily life. Just attempting to make yourself a better person will make you a better person. Stay positive!

Here are some of my favorite food-related New Year’s resolutions that I’ve made over the years. For the most part, I’ve been rather successful with each one. I certainly think I’m better off having set them as goals. My rule of thumb is to worry less about getting it right and more about making it better.

  • Be more present (i.e. less distracted) when you cook, and make an effort to think about what’s going on with the food as it goes from raw to plate.
  • Find out where the foods you normally eat come from.
  • Practice cooking eggs lots of different ways. Not all at once.
  • Bake some bread.
  • Braise some meat.
  • Eat more vegetables. Buy a folding steamer basket.
  • Eat fresh fruits and dried nuts instead of chips and cookies.
  • Drink more water. You’ll be amazed at how good it tastes once you’re hooked.
  • Skip seconds. Have some water instead.
  • Make stocks, and turn these stocks into soups etc.
  • Learn how to cook over charcoal.
  • Learn how to butcher a chicken.
  • Cook seasonal foods. Not sure how to start? Shop at the farmers’ market, or better, join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, even for a short time.
  • Donate money to a food bank. Every little bit helps.
  • Don’t eat fast food, especially for dinner. If you’re too busy to make a quick meal for dinner, you’re too busy.
  • Plan for leftovers, for when even a quick meal isn’t quick enough.
  • Get some painter’s tape and start labeling containers you put in the fridge with the date of entry.
  • Stop buying foods that are sold in boxes and bags. You’ll eat less mac&cheese if you have to make it the “hard” way.
  • Make mac&cheese the “hard” way. Not that hard, very yummy.
  • When picking a restaurant, go local. (I’ll have a post about why at some point.)
  • Eat at a real table. The coffee table doesn’t count.
  • Offer to cook for other people, and accept when others extend the offer to you.
  • Talk about food.
  • Burp out loud.

Wishing everyone a delightful 2017! Bon appétit!