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A resolution to be more meaningfully engaged.

Meaningful Engagement

This article was originally posted to one of my former blogs on 23 January 2014.

With 2014 commencing and my 20s rapidly receding in the rear-view mirror of personal history, I’ve decided that I want to spend more time in meaningful engagement.

I am using meaningful engagement to mean the spending of non-work time in a manner that results in long-term value. Value in this case is an intentionally broad term that can mean everything from physical health to mental acuity, from self-knowledge to expertise. Since it is long-term, it will typically require sustained action. It could take the form of studying more, exercising longer, eating well or sleeping better.

As is often the case with these sorts of resolutions, it is mostly defined (at least for me personally) by what it is not.

Now, first: I am not a doctor. Or a psychologist.

Nevertheless, sometimes you have to make decisions and, generally when making decisions, I try to make them from some sort of rational position. Just as the material age of plenty provides us with numerous opportunities to eat more and exert ourselves less (with horrible consequences), our information age of plenty provides us with a dizzying array of ways in which to alleviate boredom. What are the consequences of this?

I have a daily circuit of blogs overflowing with opinions on the latest in politics, foreign affairs, technology and software. Having spent the past 7 years since graduation sucking at this teat, I reflected last year on what little I had to show for it.

For all the time spent with blog post after Hacker News-linked blog post, I still:

  1. have read almost no literary fiction;
  2. know precious little about important philosophers;
  3. don’t understand much in the way of economics;
  4. have a truly poor understanding of statistics; and
  5. cannot wrap my head around functional programming languages.

On top of that, despite having been here in Japan now for more than 3 years (on top of the 2 years I was here the first time), I still speak and read the language poorly.

When faced with those facts, I tried to reconcile the amount of time I’d poured into reading online with the little I felt I actually had to show for it. The conclusion was that this was a result of having done the information equivalent of snacking. I had stocked up big on sugary coated trivia but eaten little of the more demanding intellectual vegetables. I can discuss the surface-level minutiae of so many things but there’s almost no depth. This is not me fishing for compliments. One can easily say that simply being aware of the minutiae puts one ahead of so many others. But this isn’t a race, or if it is, it should be with the people ahead, not the people behind.

I’m not trying to quit cold turkey. I think there is value in being aware of the outlines of what is going on in the world. But I am trying to be more selective. It means less time spent reading things from Twitter, less time scrolling through RSS feeds, less time browsing blogs. Instead, more time reading books, more time studying, more time learning new skills.

More time in meaningful engagement. ✺