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Abundance is a paradox. Environments of abundance are bad for the median consumer but extremely good for a small number of conscious ones. Average consumers are doomed to the tyranny of instinct. Meanwhile, consumers at the top are propelled by unlimited access to nutritious food and information.
The best metaphor is health, where obesity rates and the number of people in incredible shape are both rising. That’s why 71% of American adults are obese, while the people I see at Equinox in Manhattan have bodies that are as sculpted as a Greek statue.
The healthiest people control their diet with surgical precision. They have access to state-of-the-art workout facilities, wearable health technology, and fresh foods to match their dietary goals. They walk with six-pack abs and arms like the Incredible Hulk, while they walk with the can’t-lose swagger of Connor McGregor at a UFC fight.
News and food consumption are near-perfect metaphors.
We already use terms like “food for thought,” “I need to digest an idea,” and “she has a thirst for knowledge.” This is also why writing is so healthy for the mind. Just as you’ll improve your food diet if you start cooking, you’ll improve your information diet if you start writing.
Just as eating healthy is an everyday battle, the Internet makes it hard to find nutrient-dense information. It’s absolutely possible, but it demands deliberate effort. The Internet increases variance in outcomes. More good and more bad.
Gresham’s Law is a finance concept that states that bad money drives out good money until only bad money is left.
This law can explain why the median consumer reads low-quality information online. On the Internet, low-quality content drives out high-quality content, as the most wide-read articles are polarizing and emotionally jarring. First, they distort the truth by eliminating nuance and adding emotional charge to important topics. If you check almost any major publication, the most popular stories are opinionated and fear-inducing, drawing readers in.
The Explore Tab on Twitter is the most important newspaper in the world. It’s littered with celebrity gossip and exaggerated political drama — both of which yield a wide reach but incentivize empty content.
And yet, as the Paradox of Abundance predicts, Twitter is also one of the world’s top intellectual communities. It’s the bedrock of most of our social and intellectual life. It’s a place to make friends, raise your ambitions, and connect directly with people at the top of their fields. And yet, most people use Twitter to consume information with no nutritional value.
Ideally, a world of information abundance would bring the best to the top. Using a classic Econ 101 argument, competition should benefit consumers by improving quality.
Practically, curation platforms would wade through millions of posts every day and highlight the best of the best. But that’s not what happens.
On most platforms, low-nutrition content is the easiest to find and the most likely to be consumed.
Superficial article recommendations sit at the bottom of thousands of articles, pollute the Internet, and tarnish the credibility of media publications.
As a society, we can spend less energy following the news and become more informed about our society. The act of reading the news carries symbolic weight.
People in power won’t fear the pain of a journalist’s bite unless the news maintains its legitimacy. Likewise, even if reading the news isn’t an efficient way to learn about the world, the news industrial complex might be a necessary inefficiency in society.
Skip the news cycle, but double down on measured consumption. Ignore society’s recommendations for what to consume and refresh your learning habits like you’re shaking an etch-a-sketch.
Remember, what you should consume looks nothing like what you were taught to consume. Rebel against the mainstream spotlight, find some trusted curators and chart your own path instead.
If you diet, invest, and think according to what the ‘news’ advocates, you’ll end up nutritionally, financially, and morally bankrupt.
The modern media environment helps a small number of savvy consumers, just as it destroys the lives of millions of mindless consumers who are paralyzed by fear, anger, and misinformation. Careful consumers use the information at their fingertips to compound their wisdom while compulsive ones drown in a volcano of fire-burning rage.
On the Internet, your rate of learning is limited not by access to information, but by your ability to ignore distractions. The people you follow online is a leading indicator of your success, your health, and your happiness.
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