“In the power of fixing the attention, the most precious of the intellectual habits, mankind differ greatly; but every man possesses some, and it will increase the more it is exerted. He who exercises no discipline over himself in this respect acquires such a volatility of mind, such a vagrancy of imagination, as dooms him to be the sport of every mental vanity: it is impossible such a man should attain to true wisdom. If we cultivate, on the contrary, a habit of attention, it will become natural; thought will strike its roots deep, and we shall, by degrees, experience no difficulty in following the track of the longest connected discourse.” – Robert Hall, On Hearing the Word
Our greatly increased access to information is a double-edged sword. On one hand we have an unprecedented opportunity to shake ourselves free of superstition and ignorance, but on the other, we have never been at greater risk of being distracted from both the pursuit and attainment of true wisdom by utterly meaningless diversions. It is easier than ever to fritter away a lifetime accomplishing next to nothing while feeling very busy doing it.
Information addiction claims many lives. Like crack or other such illicit drugs, there are many ways to use. TVs, computers, and smartphones all provide a quick fix and deliver as much information as you can consume. Each year more devices and vehicles are added to the list. Getting information has never been easier…or more addictive.
The challenge at this point is that the addiction is not only socially acceptable, it is vigorously promoted from cradle to grave. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against information, or it’s organization into a body of knowledge. Information in and of itself is not evil or destructive, but the gluttonous furor with which we consume information leads to all kinds of ills.
Chief amongst these ills is the degradation of attention. We are losing our footing on the rim of the bottomless pit.
Truth is more buried than ever. Truth, to be known, depends upon deeply rooted thinking. And nothing deepens the roots more than a carefully cultivated habit of steady, focused attention.