Going Deeper

The Tiny Books Universe [Detail]

We live increasingly in a world of streams.

Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media seduce us into a river-like model that sweeps us along, carried away on the current of conversations (if, that is, our thoughts even spark conversations).

The stream is relentless. You commit your ideas to it and hope, against hope, that they might find traction somewhere… anywhere.

To be a part of this stream is to be a part of something (or so we’re told). A short update here, a brief link to something there… feed the stream.

These fragments of thought are all too easily imparted, but when we live in the stream – in reality a torrent, that can easily sweep anything of lasting value away – we’re in danger of committing our thought to a world that often seems only interested in the superficial.

I’m beginning to question the need to be immersed in this river.

The stream is seductive, of course. It’s fuelled by a fear of missing out. We’re led to believe that turning our backs on the wealth of social media platforms that vie for our attention will leave us isolated, disconnected from the masses immersed in the rapids that are hurriedly moving forth.

However – if we’re not careful – we can get swept along by the stream and find our thinking lost all too quickly in a relentless torrent of fragments. Shallow shortform thoughts are easily swept away.

This idea – of shallow thought, versus deep thought – is something I’ve been thinking about a great deal of late (thanks, in no small part, to a decision I made on 1 January, 2017 to forego the shallows of social media streams – Twitter, in particular – in favour of spending more time reading, thinking and aiming to share thoughts that were more fully thought through).

Deep thought – by its nature much harder to mine – is where I believe the real value lies.

Over the holiday period I read and re-read Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World and, whilst I might not agree with the entirety of Newport’s thinking, the book did force me to question the sheer quantity of time I was committing to what you might term ‘shallow outputs’.

As an educator, one of my roles is to signpost interesting thinking and, for the last year, I invested a great deal of time sharing links to interesting articles and other discoveries via Twitter. I hoped that by doing so I might point my students, and others, in interesting directions.

On balance, however, I think the effort I expended on this was, for the most part, sadly wasted. Looking back I think the time I expended in the stream would have been better spent elsewhere.

This line – from a recent post by Newport – shouted at me from the screen:

Deep, audacious results are the only currency that matters.

It might seem obvious – it is to me, now – but deep, audacious results (the result of deep, audacious thoughts) are less likely to emerge in the fragmentary streams we currently find ourselves immersed in. We need to focus on life beyond the stream.

To find the ideas that matter – the ideas that really last – it might be an idea to step out of the stream altogether.

If we do that, I believe, we might share ideas of value to an audience that is crying out for more – much more – than 140 character status updates.

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