If, like us, you love reading, then, like us, you most likely have an array of books lying on your bookshelves, untouched, unread and uncared for. The Japanese even have a word for this—Tsundoku, the art of buying books and never reading them. Books bought in a fit of enthusiasm but eventually lost among the daily din of what has become a much-cluttered life.
This clutter takes many forms.
There’s the obvious: in all probability you have 10 tabs open on your browser, prompts for 12 unread emails, 15 WhatsApp notifications and sundry other alerts clamouring for your attention at this very moment. And social media platforms have mastered the art of occupying our attention, to the point where we obsessively check and re-check their apps and websites for yet more notifications and updates.
But then there are things that may not even seem like clutter at first glance. Take infotainment—a broad category that covers everything from TED talks to National Geographic documentaries to books on pop psychology and behavioural finance to podcasts on history, science and politics.
Thanks to the internet, we have easy access to enormous amounts of information and wisdom and—remarkably enough—most of it can be accessed free or at a nominal charge. And yet this cornucopia of knowledge flatters to deceive. In the end, we turn all this into yet more clutter.
Psychologists and cognitive and behavioural scientists are now moving towards a view that our brains are experts at fooling us, and that we’re are just like Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. We know nothing.
How does this cluttered mind affect us? For one, we lose focus and our attention span suffers (admittedly a contentious claim, but one worth considering). Second, there is the small matter that this diversity of material does not seem to be making us any happier. In fact, stress levels around the world are on the rise. India is above average (not a good thing), especially when it comes to people working in corporate jobs.
This is what our 10-part series for The Ken is all about. We will delve into these and other issues, identify their root causes and suggest remedies. In this piece, we give you an overview of what lies ahead.
The question that springs to mind is, how do we deal with this clutter? Well, first we need to go a little deeper into our brains and understand what makes them tick.
The knowledge illusion
Donald Rumsfeld, a former US defence secretary, was famous for saying, “There are things we know that we know.