Life moves too quickly in the 21st Century. Tweets and Facebook posts pour into every screen faster than they can be consumed. E-mails, like The Hydra, can be cut back but two or three surge forth to take the place of those answered. The news cycle is so short and the systems for sharing information so good that we’re constantly barraged with headlines from across the globe that shock and depress us. Heck, even if you just watch funny animal videos, there are too many to digest in one lifetime. It’s impossible to keep up, so there’s little point in trying. Instead, it’s time to discriminate.
The term “discrimination” has taken on a very foul taint since the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, but I’m not talking about discrimination towards people. Instead, I think it’s important to have discriminating taste when it comes to to information. Some information sources such as Facebook have made curation of your feeds automatic, learning what you enjoy seeing and filtering out the detritus. If they didn’t there would simply be too much information from your hundreds of friends and their smartphones to ever keep up with. If they could start working on a similar algorithm for my work e-mail, I’d be overjoyed! This isn’t like the 17th Century when there was no Internet, no twenty-four hour news cycle, and barely any literacy; today, trying to keep up with all the information that is pushed, or perhaps thrown, at you is like trying to drink all the fresh water on your home continent. You simply can’t consume that much and survive. To combat this information overload, I’ve taken steps like turning off notifications on my smartphone so I choose when to review new messages instead of having them slap me in the face automatically, but that only solves part of the problem. The other, more important problem, is deciding which information or media to take the time to really integrate with oneself, not just in a superficial way (i.e. learning facts), but in a deeper way that integrates the information into one’s deeper understanding of the Universe and the human condition.
Determining where to start isn’t always easy, but I’ve found books to be a good source of wisdom in the past. Literature has a way of unveiling great truths through fiction that offers a much more fundamental type of learning than if one memorized the information in a set of encyclopedias. Therefore, I’ve decided to let the greats be my guides and teach me about life. By my fortieth birthday in nine and a half years, my goal is to have read the top 100 greatest books in the Western Canon (in their original language wherever feasible). I’ve purchased the following titles to help me decide what to read and how to begin this journey:
- The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer
- The Book of Great Books: A Guide to 100 World Classics by W. John Campbell
- The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages by Harold Bloom
I began my quest last night, September 5, 2014, even though it has been a goal of mine for quite sometime. I’ve read a decent number of the “greatest” books, but there are still many whose spines I’ve yet to crack. Once I complete The Well-Educated Mind, I plan to have my first battle with All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. I’ve read the synopsis which has given me a general idea of the plot and will help me really dig in deeper when I read it page-by-page. As I move through each book, I plan to share my thoughts here and record what I learn. By the time this quest is complete, I expect I’ll be a very different person, enriched by my decision to take it slower and focus not on consuming all the information in the world but the best.