The Purge (or) How to Throttle “The Noise” Until It Hurts You Pt. I

Today I had to make lunch. Call me whatever you like, but making lunch for me is usually a stressful endeavor. Right in the thick of things, often when I’m busiest, I have to carve out time to not only eat lunch (which could be a nice break) but invent a lunch, which bears far too much resemblance to what I do in the rest of my life (despite my hope that my other efforts are longer-lasting). Sometimes, I plan ahead, but this kind of planning is also required (of course) right when I don’t want to plan any more. So, I generally rely on pre-made components: microwaveable soup, lunchmeat and bread, etc.

My wife and I are, however, currently on another one of our financially-driven “creative weeks” where we refuse to go to the supermarket until we are really sure we’ve made every meal our stocks can supply. At this point, we’re getting pretty close, although today I realized a few more dinners that could be made. What did not at first strike me were any lunches. But then I came up with one.

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As you can see, I made a variant of “trail pizzas” for lunch today, a staple of my too-infrequent backpacking endeavors. The result was a great lunch and, halfway through my first “pizza,” I realized how rewarding it was to get away from pre-packaged lunches for a change. So I stopped to take a picture, sensing that a blog was in gestation, and here I am trying to conjure words for an undigested bit of pepperoni.

It isn’t a new idea to me that lack gives birth to creativity. Nevertheless, I would say it’s uncommon for me to live into that principle. For better or worse, I continue to live into “The Noise,” the whirlwind of information, opinions, and art constantly available online or in local physical spaces (I’ve written about “The Noise” before and I would recommend checking out that post if you missed it.). Recently, I followed a friend’s influence into the world of online publications and I’ve quite enjoyed reading myriad commentary on current events as well as the occasional niche musing on art or culture. However, I’ve also noticed that my addictive personality has begun to take hold of this habit, creating for me yet another area of my life where I desperately fear being “uninformed” and thus obsessively check for new articles lest I miss one and fail to be conversant on it should it prove important. Thanks to Portlandia I already see the writing on the wall of where this leads, so I’m attempting to check this behavior now.

But what does “checking this behavior” mean, or look like?

A few months ago I got to meet Cam Anderson, a visual artist and the Executive Director of a really impressive professional association called Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA). He gave me a couple of back issues of CIVA’s bi-annual publication called SEEN, including an issue from 2011 where he wrote an essay called “Be Still,” a reflection on the infinity, and therefore overwhelming nature, of digital information (I would love to lend the essay to you, but really you should just buy the issue the publication is that good). Midway through the piece Anderson introduces two pieces of advice for living within “The Noise” (did I mention I met Cam through an experience called Into the Noise?). First, he mentions it is critical to “manage the flow” of information and suggests the resource “Getting Things Done” (or GTD). On their website, I found the Five Simple Steps That Apply Order to Chaos, which interestingly enough I’ve already been implementing in my own life for some time now. However relevant these keys to managing chaos are (and as I’ve found there are plenty of technologies I rely on which make something like this possible), I still feel that they are rather maximalist, that is, there’s no gate to limit the amount of information coming in besides the breadth of one’s own interest. For infinitely-curious people like myself, this is bad news. To be fair, however, I’ll admit I haven’t read much else from GTD so maybe they also propose a solution like the ones below.

Anderson goes on to suggest that spiritual retreat is an even more powerful way to survive the digital onslaught and, to be honest, I’m overdue for just such an experience. On such a retreat, maybe I’ll find that I don’t want to return to “The Noise” and I’ll begin researching (with some friends I can already think of) more Luddite ways of living. Barring that real possibility, however, there’s another practice that I want to implement in my noise saturated life.

I’m calling it the purge.

The Purge is a technique whereby a technology-user simply deletes, rejects, or intentionally ignores channels of digital (or even physical) noise. For myself, I’m interested in the way that purging technologies, apps, or other inlets of “The Noise” fights against my obsessive tendencies and hubris. Recognizing that there is no way I can be “informed” about everything that even I would value being “informed” about, I want to purge various means of engagement with that totality to force the realization that I might be missing out on important information. Once again, this kind of activity isn’t a new concept to me, but right now I’m very interested in fleshing it out more. And so, having finally arrived at what I set out to begin saying, I’ll leave off for now in the hopes that I’ll return to this idea soon, perhaps with some practical experience to share. Maybe I can even use the time I save by not reading, watching, listening to, and organizing everything under the sun to blog a bit more frequently so that each of my visits doesn’t turn into a 1000 word tome.

Maybe.

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