tips: the end of rational thought?

Posted on June 11, 2007


lego ThinkerIf you’re here it’s probably because you don’t mind and even sometimes like reading tips that are designed to help you improve your life in some way. Well this interesting article (in a blog dedicated to tips) has a very interesting point to make about how limiting tips are in the first place.

Here’s a snip:

The problem with tips is that they’re too delicious. People become obsessed with prepackaged information nuggets and stop thinking for themselves. When an article focuses on theory, no matter how brilliant it is, people complain that the information isn’t “useful”. The definition of “useful” has become so narrow that it only includes information that applies directly to a concrete problem. This reluctance to master and apply conceptual knowledge is a symptom of intellectual laziness.

The internet, despite it’s advantages, promotes intellectual laziness. Information is everywhere, making it highly disposable. Tips are appealing because they can be quickly absorbed and applied without any independent thought. The downside is that conceptual information is neglected. When understanding a concept requires effort, we usually abandon it in favor of practical tips.

Are they really training us to think only thoughts that can be expressed in bullet points? The New Yorker ran a great article a couple of years ago relating the increasingly homogeneous groupthink in the business world with the pervasiveness of Powerpoint, which can only express thoughts in a certain way. You can’t, for instance, do Plato’s Symposium as a Powerpoint presentation, although you are welcome to try.

Are we cutting the corners off our thoughts and squashing them into prefab boxes and ever-smaller spaces, because we’re too busy to sit down, open up our brains, and give what’s in there time to breathe and space to roam freely? This is what meditation is, and it’s no wonder that chanting and meditation classes are becoming very popular. The human brain wants to think; it wants to knit great multicoloured edifices of texture and subtlety and it will, if you give it half a chance.

Tips have their place (blogs are a good place for them, since nobody is going to sit down and expect to read a seven thousand word post) but let’s remember: Tips are the McNuggets of thought, and have you seen what part of the chicken McNuggets come from???

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