Ever have that feeling that there’s too much awesome in the world and you’ll never read/listen/experience it all? It’s a kind of skewed, counter-intuitive anxiety – “what if I miss out on something? What if there’s a song out there, or an idea, or a writer who is absolutely perfect for me and I will never get to hear them because of all of the other stuff in the way, stuff I have to sift through?”
It feels like a kind of post-millennial angst – the web has given us so much to love but has also shown us the depth and breadth of our own particular rabbit-holes. Whether you love cookery or stamp-collecting, there’s always something or someone else further down that hole. And it’s that sheer scale which scares us.
So what’s the solution, then? It seems to me that the default setting for many is quite simply More. More TBs of music downloaded from torrent sites, more time on the web, more scouring of blogs and your RSS reader for the next idea, the next insight, the next cat video.
But you still feel it, don’t you? That you’ll never get to it all – that that “thing” is still out there and there’s a vast chance you’ll die without it.
There is another way though, and it’s all about speed. After reading John Freeman’s article “Manifesto on Slow Communication” and more recently Robin Sloan’s tap-essay “Fish” – both of which I suggest you go read RIGHT NOW, I’m realizing that – to borrow the terms Robin uses in his essay – maybe that “thing” you’re looking for isn’t in the 15 things you’ll “like” today. Maybe it’s actually deep within all of the things you’ve “loved” over the past 10 years.
The things you “love”, according to Robin, are the things you’ve returned to more than once; the things that are bulging with ideas that better represent you, things you have to return to in order to soak them up them up properly; things that exist in the outside world that seem to truly understand the inside you; things that bring outward your inner forms.
Like the slow food movement, which focuses on understanding the details of the natural environment and the origin of what you’re putting in your mouth, this “slowing down” allows details to emerge that you’d never see at first, second or even third glance.
I find it when I memorize a poem, when I put an album on “repeat”, when I read and re-read articles online or send them to friends. The meanings, the ideas, which were like bright glinting shells underwater that catch the eye on first glance, reveal themselves upon patient re-looking to be vast treasures troves of understanding. All I have to do is sit patiently and just look.
This is, in reality, very difficult to do. Mainly because, as John mentions in his “Manifesto …”, progress in a corporate world is measured in speed, in size and in quantity.
But as he also mentions, “real progress is measured in learning to decide what is working and what is not; and working at this pace …at this frantic rate, is pleasing very few of us.”