Life comes at you fast, they say. For me, it’s not just the speed, it’s the volume. My mind has to be engaged almost all the time. There is always something else to do. There is always something else to know, something else to use, something else to obey. At any given moment, I can be sure that I’m missing something.
There is too much to know. The internet has assured us that we cannot know it all. There is an unlimited amount of information on virtually any topic. It is impossible to be well informed anymore. I try to keep up with the news, but often miss something I consider very important. How could that happen? Then there is entertainment news, an important topic for anyone who wants to keep up with culture. However, there are so many TV channels now, so many shows. Who could know them all? Movies come and go, and are nominated for Academy Awards, and I have never heard of them.
In addition, there is other information that matters in daily life. What can really be recycled? Plastic water bottles, by law, must be recycled, but the tops are not recyclable? Everybody knows that. What are the latest health issues? What foods will give you a heart attack? Is trans-fat good or bad? Which flu symptoms are really dangerous? Which immunizations are really necessary? When does daylight savings time begin and end?
Of course, there are things we need to know to be educated. We need to know history, literature, mathematics, science, philosophy. I am still learning all this stuff. Nevertheless, I see that the more I learn, the more I recognize the gaps in my learning. There are so many books I want to read. I seriously wonder if I will find the time in this lifetime.
How can I possibly know all that I want to know? Especially when there is more to know every second of life? I have concluded that there is too much to know.
There is too much to use. I don’t know an Xbox 360 from a Gameboy, from a PS3. I know that these are all gaming devices, but that’s about all I know. I do have a smart phone for which 40,000 apps are available. I can pull up a Bible or a GPS system at will, anytime, anywhere (almost). It used to be that for any new piece of technology I purchased, I would learn how to use it from start to finish, from top to bottom. But not anymore. For any given device, the possibilities are near endless. And there are so many devices. I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of the capabilities of every gadget. Some features I could really use. Some features, not so much.
My garage door opener has three buttons on it. Only one does anything. I have no idea what the other two could do. I haven’t bothered to figure it out.
Now we have iTunes, iPods, iPads, software suites, recording equipment, Skype, Go-to-Meetings, Facebook, and Twitter. I have used all these things (Except the iPad. It’s on my wish list.), but often struggle with how they work. I can’t remember exactly how to engage a certain function, but can always eventually figure it out. Right now, I’m looking at my Microsoft Office Word application. There are tons of buttons all over the screen, some of which I have no idea what they do. Hey, I can mouse over them and see their function! But most of these buttons I never use. I just don’t need them. Yes, I know that I can customize my screens, but that’s something else to figure out.
There is too much to obey. Someone has estimated that the average person commits three felonies every day. There are so many laws and regulations, we have no idea what they are, and no idea how to obey them. To run a small business, it seems that an entrepreneur needs degrees in law and accounting. Further, she needs to become an expert in sign ordinances, building code compliance, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and environmental protection.
It seems I learn more minutiae of traffic laws every time I talk with a driver’s ed student. When do you really have to stop for a school bus?
Then there are copyright laws. Who really understands them? Do the same laws apply to print and media alike? Can you post that video on YouTube? You can make a copy of that CD for yourself, but if you give the copy to someone else, then you break the law. Can you keep the copy for yourself and give away the original? It is hard to obey these laws, because no one really understands them. The technology of the recording industry changes too fast for laws to keep up, to be enforceable, or to be understandable.
And all our tax laws are legendary for being beyond reason or comprehension. Only 15 years ago, I did my taxes with paper and pencil. I wouldn’t dream of doing that now.
Now here’s my point: There is a limit to the human mind’s ability to engage in everything and remain healthy. We all know that, but we behave as though there were no limit. We are stretching our capacity to manage all these details of living. As a result, we have problems that were unheard of 100 years ago: road rage, “nervous breakdowns,” burn out, workaholism. Addictions have become diseases and marriages have become disposable. No one can define “family” without dissent. Children today have schedules as packed as those of businessmen in the 1950s. Businesspersons of today are lucky to find any time at all for their own children. No one gets enough sleep.
Our work is never done. Our minds are fried. And for the most part, we are used to it. This can’t keep going on forever.
So, what should we do? We begin by realizing that we have limits – limits of our time, our mental capacity, our emotional energy. Then we choose. We choose to spend our time, intellect, and energy on the things that matter most. And we choose to leave some things undone – like figuring out those two mysterious buttons on my garage door opener.
The article was written by David Bailey and does not necessarily represent the views of Classical Conversations.