Prescription Drugs

I am in the midst of reading my third (or maybe fifth) book on internal design processes, and I am not gonna lie, if this doesn't get interesting in the next 20 pages, I'm going to start skimming chapters and stow it away.

“This book could have been a long-form essay” — I hear myself saying.

I am also judging myself for buying this book when instinctively I have always doubted what new information is worth going through 300 pages of what I do every day.

Some may call me presumptuous. I beg to differ — hear me out.

I think we all have a knowledge-hoarding problem. A lot of us, like to collect information and trivia to feel like we know a lot and hence we are wiser. Piles of books, newsletters, and podcasts in our bookmarks and read-lists. Sometimes we also use this knowledge-hoarding habit at a higher virtue than say someone who consumes a lot of Netflix and YouTube. I know this because I too am partly guilty of doing so.

I wonder what it's worth — the stolen time we could have used to be out there experiencing life first-hand in social groups or nature, the days when we could have just entertained ourselves with slapstick comedy spent over trying to cram facts from a history book so that I could use this information on my fingertips. I wonder what it's worth. You may argue that one likes to learn and this hard-beat hobby is a form of learning, fair enough, but I am also at an age where all knowledge is literally at my fingertips if only I index how to get to it well.

NN Taleb mentioned Umberto Eco's anti-library in the first chapter of Black Swan — very analogous to the internet, he thinks of library as a research tool, you can access to almost everything in the world if you know the shortest path to get there. For most people who don't need facts of hard knowledge (like Biology, Chemistry) for everyday occupation, concepts tend to repeat. At that point, you only need to recall the shortest path to what happens next.

Knowledge-hoarding tendency also extends to our never-ending need to document. Recently a lot of startups come up for building note-taking at the next level; the Second Brain as they call it. Some names I can recall — Obisidian, and mymind to name a few. I tried mymind for a few months and the end result was like every other note-taking app I have ever tried. I come back to my notes only once in a 100 months, when triggered by a random need to recall a tiny detail.

But does that mean I should not document at all? No. My realisation is that the act of documenting itself is far more important than the actual document we come up with. It's the act of comprehension. I feel there is some hangover here from our 90's education systems where we oftentimes confused whether we got all our textbooks if only we could spew facts worth 10 marks when in reality, we want to use writing as a way to make sure we're all understanding what is meant.

The point I'm trying to make is that we're oftentimes so obsessed with knowledge hoarding, that we don't spend enough time knowledge distilling — simplifying and reducing what we learnt to its core essence. In my own self, I noticed that I would jump from one nugget of information to the other out of curiosity about what all lies in the world that sometimes I would forget to sit down and assimilate. I would keep consuming content and never slowing down to actually analyze what it meant. I suspect I did it because a part of byte-hopping felt like new information will telll me something completely mind-bending and life-altering and partly because my attention span has become that of a goldfish. And then I noticed that that feeling has reduced over the years. My growing ick is that maybe all sense of wonder mostly happens at zero-to-one. Maybe this is all there is to it. I think I need to slow down to keep recall of that information.

I noticed Designers (also me) doing something similar with project work too. We'd spend a lot of time in the research phase of design, to make sure we really really got the problem right, to avoid that actual hands-on design work where we are supposed to put words to ambiguities and take them one-by-one with stakeholders. Especially when it's supposed to be a seemingly complex strategic problem. It comes from a tendency of self-doubt I believe, a type of imposter syndrome.

6 months back, I decided to forego going to a therapist or a coach or a mentor. My best friend N pointed to me that I sometimes want to feel semblance of progress just because I am giving mindspace to something. He may not be entirely wrong, I do routinely identify as an overthinker. I decided to quit Therapy for some time, assuring myself that I could always go back. And then one day, I was having an unusually distressful day and I decided to go back, only to realise that I already had the tools that Therapy could impart me with, and I should have felt confident in my own footing to exercise my own knowledge and decision-making. Probably the next time a distressing episode comes in, I will be ready-er. Therapy is a good example because all your counselling sessions seem like knowledge hoarding, but when an actual event or trigger occurs, it requires internal work at play to manifest internal and external results. I think I was using Therapy as an alibi — to be stuck in the act of decision-making rather than actually make the decision.

On the surface of it, all knowledge hoarding — reading a book, going to a coach or a therapist often feels like the right step in avoiding confusion, and maybe to a certain extent it is. I do not deny the benefits of an outside perspective, a bird's eye view of the problem and with that, better understanding, but somehow they have started to feel like prescription drugs to me, drugs that you take to avoid pain or control a symptom, “prescriptive” because someone told you its good for you. Prescription drugs are great in the short term but let it not be an alibi to avoid the bitter pills of actual work.

I now believe that if I have spent enough time with anything, I will have enough wisdom to take my own precise decisions, and must grow confident in the knowledge I already have to move, and my ability to recall it when the time arrives.

So with that I will close this post to let you know its OK to let go of a few Twitter threads which tell you, you haven't used AI to its full potential, YET.


To reply you need to sign in.