A bulwark of personal relevance
We filter information through the lens of our goals.
If we have no goals, the filtering is incredibly loose. There is lots of potentially relevant information. This often leads to aimless wandering, which may or may not be useful to us. A lot of people are in the wandering mode on the Internet.
On the other hand, if we have clear goals (ours or someone else's), then that filtering of information is more strict. The division between relevant and irrelevant information is cleaner.
Most of us find ourselves somewhere in between full blown wandering and super-clear goals. For most people, goals are mostly a subconscious matter and related to gratifying our needs or desires: find food, find a partner, find a Netflix series to watch... (If it's Friday evening, perhaps even in that order.) Let's call these our base goals.
Occasionally, a person dares to make Goals ™ that are specific, measurable, achievable, reasonable, and time-bound. But even those high on self-help literature typically forget these high-minded goals in favor of actually pursuing the basic unconscious goals. Rare is the individual who actually pursues deliberately set goals with vehemence and vigor.
And so we arrive at the topic of this post. Why not become that rare individual?
I've said in the past that much of the Internet is utterly irrelevant to our lives. That's not entirely accurate. Much of the Internet is relevant to our goals—the base goals. It's full of content to make us laugh, make us buy food or other things, make us look for mates. The problem is that since the base goals are reinforced so much, their pursuit can crowd out and effectively shred any sort of high-minded, noble, creative goal. A vast amount of content online reinforces the consumerist part of the Internet, which is already huge. I think that's a shame.
Additionally, the news is constantly trying to convince us that something is relevant to us and have our goals be staying informed, sharing stories, and most importantly buying a subscription. They try to lure us in with novelty or negativity. Social media influencers want us to like and subscribe and buy their live-love-laugh-style merch. They try to lure us in with clickbait and ridiculous behavior
If we're not careful, we'll bite the hook and forget what we actually wanted to do. We'll accept their goals which will shift what we view as relevant. And so we will waste our day, worrying about things which have no bearing on our lives. Not creating anything, simply keeping up with what's going on. Any far-off tragedy (of which there are plenty, at all times) will become an excuse for doing the easy thing: consuming. Hm, are you consuming, or is your life being consumed?
Do not let yourself be consumed and swept away by the tide, stand against it by protecting your own creative goals.
Reinforce your own creative goals
In response to this tide of faux relevance, I think most of us could do a bit of extra reinforcement of our creative goals, so that even if we do go to read, listen to, or watch something, the right pieces of information stick out as relevant, and the wrong pieces will seem starkly irrelevant in contrast (which will naturally lead to less consumption of banal media).
Naturally, I can't leave you without tying the points above to concrete behaviors. Call it Déformation professionnelle.
So here's a daily practice and a thought experiment to reinforce our own goals, and in doing so make the right information stick out as relevant.
Create something before you let the world in
Each day, ignore the world until you've created something.
(My pinned tweet.)
It's as simple as it sounds. Before you check the news, social media, or do Wordle, do something creative. It could be work-related or not, that's up to you. Simple journaling exercises like morning pages are one example of this.
I firmly believe that our day is radically improved if we start with creation instead of consumption. That is not to say that I uphold the rule above perfectly. I do not. I fail too (though it used to be worse before I built my distraction-blocking extension - it has a specific preset called Creative Mornings that is directly related to the rule above) Yet, every single time I actually create something before I go online, I'm in a much better mood.
When we don't pursue our own goals, they fade. We're most susceptible to losing sight of what's actually relevant in the morning. Our mind is close to a blank slate, yesterday's ideas having been largely washed away by the peaceful waves of sleep.
So that's why it's important to start with something goal-oriented and creative. By doing that first, you're creating a shield of relevance, your own protective bubble that repels whatever irrelevant information the world throws at you.
Day in your life in 5 or 10 years
While the above is an everyday practice, this is a one-time exercise. It's the less dorky version of a "personal vision" or a "vision board."
Simply take a moment to answer this question:
What do you imagine a day in your life will look like, 10 years from now?
(If 10 is too intimidating, go with 5.)
Imagine your day, minute by minute, hour by hour, and write it down.
I think this exercise that I first heard described by Debbie Millman is more important than ever. I think when people hear about the future or think about it, for many that image is negative. Threats of hostile AI, climate change, super-volcanoes, or WW III and other catastrophes are so widely talked about that a lot of people avoid even thinking about the future, let alone imagining it as a positive era. And that's just scratching the surface. Rising rents, opioid epidemic, inflation,... It's about 10 000x more ambient negativity than is constructive. And given that, I think having a personal and positive image of one's own future is even more relevant.
On a more practical level, I also find this exercise useful in that it makes you think about the things that you want to keep doing. For example, writing falls into that category for me. I know that whatever happens, I like the process of writing. It's a low friction, high enjoyment way to express my ideas. That gives me peace in this moment right now, because I know that I'm already doing what I want to be doing. It highlights that this particular activity is very much part of the journey, regardless of any particular destination.
One destination that we have most certainly reached, however, is the end of this piece.
Most of the Internet is irrelevant, which is easier to see when you know what you actually want to do. So crystallize your own aims by doing something creative first thing in the morning, and write about a positive image of your future self to counteract the ambient negativity of the current era.