A Shot of Culture

I feel like I’ve been on a long-term binge of mental junk food and candy. The Us Magazines, gossip blogs, tweets and Facebook posts in my world do not do much to help me toward my goals and I feel unsatisfied and sick after bingeing on them, yet still I continue dipping in to it all to assuage my boredom. It’s got to stop. I feel so much happier when I’ve read a lengthy article on a meaty topic where I actually learned something, or after I’ve watched a movie that really made me think. I’m working on changing my habits so that I’m enriching myself with worthwhile content instead of meaningless drivel about celebrities, or, God forbid, reality show stars (thankfully, reality TV is one thing I have never gotten into).

Here’s my starting plan:

1. Favor long-form content. The world seems to be largely going the way of the tweet, but I don’t know if that’s a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy what I get out of Twitter, whether it be pithy comments from my favorite bloggers, good industry articles from friends, humorous statements or important news. That said, it should only be one part of my content food pyramid (err, plate). What I would like to do is dive into fewer topics more deeply, and really get to understand a concept instead of glossing over it. I have a subscription to the New Yorker, and some nights I just love to curl up with an issue and really dive into it, immersing myself in the topic at hand. The articles are often insanely long, but afterward I feel like I have such a better understanding of the world and more context/story around the topic, which helps me remember it better too.

2. Read fiction. Did you know that reading fiction helps you develop stronger empathy? And that this is a good thing since my generation apparently lacks empathy? It’s not surprising. I feel like many people my age (including myself) have nurtured a “me me me” mentality, and look out for #1 before thinking of the needs of others. I want to change that. Reading fiction is a small step toward that goal (volunteering and donating to organizations I support is part of that plan too). Plus, it really helps me relax and escape from the stresses of normal life. Can’t be anything wrong with that. I recently read The Hunger Games trilogy. I greatly enjoyed the plot and the complexity of the characters, and the storyline–where a rich, lavish capital city lords over 12 poor, but essential districts–very much reminded me of the current political landscape. The book created a range of emotions in me, from searing rage to utter sorrow. I truly felt for the downtrodden in the book, and it made me think more deeply about the plight of others. While I had never thought about how fiction affects empathy, it makes sense that the emotions you feel for the characters in the book allow you to step in their shoes and feel what they’re feeling, making you more sympathetic to what others are going through.

3. Read biographies. I love biographies. I find them utterly fascinating. I think it is interesting to take a close look at someone successful in society and analyze the way they lived their live. I can learn from their mistakes or emulate their positive behaviors. My favorite biographer is Walter Isaacson. He wrote a bio on Benjamin Franklin that I ate up, and he is also writing one about Steve Jobs that I can’t wait to read (particularly in the wake of Steve Jobs stepping down from his role as Apple’s CEO). I also enjoyed reading Warren Buffett’s biography by Alice Schroeder. The next biography I want to read is on Grace Hopper, possibly the most famous woman programmer and a pioneer of the computer age. I also want to read this biography on the famous physicist Richard Feynman.

How do you keep your mind from atrophying?

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