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Are we getting hooked to pocket-sized wisdom?

(Published in Khaleej Times dated 29 May, 2023)

A few days ago, a friend of mine sought a suggestion from me about writing a book on Confucious explaining the Chinese sage’s philosophy to Gen Z. I didn’t ask why Gen Z alone when every one of us across all age groups could use some Confucianism in these times of utter confusion, but I offered him some practical advice – break it down and make it bitesize. I said it considering not just the profound nature of the subject and my friend’s intellectual powers, but the fact that no one has the time or proclivity to consume big chunks of knowledge anymore.

Folks need fast knowledge and faster results now. 5 habits to keep or kick; 7 cool tips; 8 best methods; 10 easy ways – the list offering quick-fixes for problems and predicaments of every sort is endless and it makes me cynical. What a cakewalk life has become now with advice and solutions available on a scroll on anything from difficult pregnancies to losing excess weight to making a windfall gain to handling toxic people in life! Given this, we should not be cribbing anymore about the intricacies of life and its intransigence, for help is literally at hand. Pick up the phone and find new ways to set things across the board right.

I am tempted to go gung-ho at the manner in which the internet has become a digital version of the philosopher’s stone, ready to remedy every conceivable problem in life with a few steps, but I balk at the thought of how it dilutes life and takes an offhanded approach to its many details. I am divided in my opinion about this. I am unable to decide if we must applaud the deft ways in which we decipher life now or worry that we are beginning to oversimplify things that need more serious consideration and study than what we are offering and receiving on the internet.

The digital world has revlutionised the way we disseminate and consume information, but at the same time it has also distorted our view of things. Most of what is ladled out to us is driven by marketing needs to catch audience attention and I do not deny that the changing dynamics of modern, technology-propelled business makes generalization of universal problems inevitable. As employees and entrepreneurs, we all have something to sell; we all have to find buyers for it; we all know how consumers’ attention spans are shrinking, and we need to act expeditiously to grab their eyeballs. These are part of our survival blueprint.

On the other side, as common people, we are all grappling with sundry problems each day and are looking for quick resolution. So, if someone proffers instant antidotes to all our daily dilemmas, we lap it up without questioning what it does to our knowledge base and mind space.

Having said that, the pace at which we are being steamrolled by instant remedies these days makes me think that it is time for us to take stock of its pros and cons. When someone offers to teach us something that took them 10 years to learn in only 3 minutes, it is time for us to pause and think about what’s on the platter.

Are the on-the-spot answers to our predicaments making us suckers for ineffective solutions and superficial knowledge? How much of the online content should we consume and with what seriousness? Is the knowledge that is lavished on us in little sachets across the internet giving us an overdose of information and clogging our brains? Or is it truly leading us to new revelations and deeper understanding of life concepts?

Content creators are working overtime to bail us out of our issues, and we are grateful to them for it. Their ‘tips and steps’ help us identify our problems, determine our dilemmas; simplify hard concepts; provide impetus and offer guidelines, all in a jiffy. But they have also whetted our appetite for instant gratification. We fail to realise that the dearth of details in the bonsai methods of problem-solving makes them incapable of offering sustainable solutions. Moreover, all that they say may not be accurate or equally apply to everyone.

The way things are progressing (or regressing, depending on how we look at it), it won’t be long before we start popping energy pills instead of eating meals. One may argue that it is a viable option to preclude long cooking and eating processes and would save time in a world of hustles. But then again, there is a difference between a capsule and a full course meal. One settles our hunger, the other satiates our stomach and soul. Which one would we prefer?

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