Thursday, January 13, 2011

How to Be an Informed Person

My Dad's generation had it figured out.  Twenty years ago, if you wanted to be the sort of person who know what's going on in the world, you read "the paper"--the actual name of which depended on your town of residence--every day.  You watched the news at ten o'clock (the CBC National news in Canada) or one of your three major American networks at 6:30, and you were on top of things.  Really sophisticated folks skipped church and watched one of the Sunday morning news shows.  What all of these people had in common was that they trusted that what they were fed gave them what they needed to know.

So. For quite a few years now, those Elitists have been buried alive by a bunch of channels.  By which I don't mean cable television, unless you are an old person either in fact or in spirit.  There are other, less politically correct echo chambers where you can agree with all sorts of people who hate what you hate. They are rarely, if one is discussing something other than how you love vintage buttons or Mongolian ice hogs, about positive feelings. Indeed, in the past week--after the horrifying events in Arizona--the lack of decorum in media discourse has been thrown into high relief.  All in all, the vast majority of news, if you can call it that, is crap.

There is so much of this crap flying at us that we don't really know what to trust.  So even the most thoughtful among us retreat to or, that ever-trusty conversational refuge in Texas, football.  Hockey in Canada.  Football---the other kind--in most other places. (Cricket, I don't get. Sorry to fans of the sticky wicket.) 

Although I love the cybersphere as much as the next person, I've reached the conclusion that the best way to learn about the world, the real one, is not to try and digest the sticky globs the modern media are trying to feed us. The path to understanding is interaction. With real human beings.  Call me old-fashioned, but try these:

  1. The next time you meet someone new, ask them all about their work.  Even if they have what seems to be an uninteresting job, ask them what they like about it.  Even better, find out what they hate.  You'll get an idea what runs their life. Or maybe how fortunate you are.
  2. If that doesn't work, ask about their families. You'll either make a new friend or decide you're incredibly well-adjusted.
  3. I once read a quote in Vogue where an impossibly beautiful, sophisticated older woman said if she wanted to have a great conversation she asked the person beside her at a dinner party to tell her about the last time he or she fell in love.  If you're brave or drunk enough to do it, you'll likely get a good story.  It might not be happy, but it will be interesting.
  4. Travel.  Hate to write such a truism, but whether you go to another part of town or overseas, go.  And talk to everyone, even if you sound like an idiot trying to speak the local language. 
  5. Turn off the television, at least sometimes. It's all about selling something to you, and even reality shows are edited. Your real life is much more interesting, if you choose to make it so.
  6. Read. A memoir or a novel is best and generally superior to the latest business book, which is just a bland, watered-down version of the essential truth found in good literature. Business books, aside from the great ones about greed or innovation, are written for people with an inability to apprehend metaphor.
  7. Leave your desk.  Go meet a friend for lunch, walk around the block, or visit a museum for an hour. If nothing else, you'll be a more charming dinner companion.  And then you can ask someone about his last love affair. 


  1. Wait! I want someone to ask me about my next love affair.

  2. I LOVE memoirs. Recently finished Just Friends by Patti Smith. Read it in two days, on my iPad. I love that I can look stuff up while I read, like Robert Mapplethorpe's photos.