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  • Writer's pictureBrendan Stec

Wisdom deprivation disorder

A different perspective on social media

Too New

My frustration with social media isn’t tied merely to the anxiety and depression it increases, the amount of time it sucks, or the narcissistic behaviors it tends to reward and reinforce.

The primary philosophical problem I have with social media, which is a problem I don’t hear discussed as often, is that the majority of its content is too new.

There is nothing wrong with a new car or a new flavor of Trade Joe’s almond beverage, but new information is a bit different. Tweets, rants, and opinionated-news-stated-as-fact only a few hours or minutes old haven’t been vetted. Time has not yet filtered out that which is irrelevant, untrue, or both. The signal to noise ratio is lower than the ratio of people to dogs in Rittenhouse Square.

The main reason why people don’t read the news from last year is because most of what was originally breaking news at that point turned out to be noise, and only a small percentage was actually useful to remember for the long-term.

If you’re a reader here at Thoughts from a Bench, you’re likely a knowledge worker; you are paid to think in some form or another. And just as healthy food fuels your physical performance, healthy information fuels your thinking performance. In contrast: garbage-in, garbage-out.

Most of the content on platforms such as Reddit and TikTok is optimized to pump quick hits of dopa through the reward pathway in your brain. Its only concern is immediacy, trading off relevancy for click-on-me value, long-term truth for short-term profits (and a phat return for shareholders).

It’s fun to eat garbage sometimes (I’m a YouTube fiend), but not for every meal.

Source: Statista Wisdom Deprivation Disorder With people consuming more and more social media each year, psychologist and social commentator Jonathan Haidt believes there is a “wisdom deprivation disorder” among many people today, especially among the younger generations. More and more individuals are unfortunately missing out on much of the timeless wisdom passed down from prior generations as social media crowds out time to read old books or even watch old films. As he said recently on a podcast with Bridget Phetasy,

"Everyone should read the Stoics before they get on Twitter. And if they read the Stoics, they would actually get off of Twitter."

Maybe a tad bit of hyperbole there. But I think conceptually he’s right: if you ignore the works of the ancient thinkers, such as the Stoics, Buddha, Sun Tzu, Montaigne, and Shakespeare, you ignore the fundamental principles of human nature that those works have painstakingly established. The fancy reason why the wisdom contained in these books is so timeless is because of what Nassim Taleb calls the Lindy Effect in his book Antifragile. Nonperishable things that have survived a long time will likely continue to survive for a long-time. A book that has been relevant for 50 years will likely be relevant for 50 more. A book that has been relevant for 2000 years will likely be relevant for 2000 more. Previous generations have sieved out the best ideas for us; the work is not new but ancient, and it’s still around for a reason. Older, time-tested media (conditional on it still being around) therefore has a higher signal to noise ratio, meaning it has a higher ROI, or if we’re being pedantic, RROI (Reading Return on Investment). If you’re like me, you may only be able to spare 15-20 minutes of free time each night to read. Choosing the few books that pack the most RROI is critical. Stealing the best, oldest ideas can provide a tall advantage, because you get to store away what thousands of smart people before you spent their whole lives figuring out. As the philosopher Edmund Burke put it much more plummily in 1790:

“We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason; because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages.”

Let's try to read things that are old!


Further Reading (1) Antifragile, Nassim Taleb

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