Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tomthemick@gmail.com

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Learning and Discerning


Too much information is coming my way and there isn’t time to digest it all. It’s causing me stress and I’m trying to do something about it.

It’s the internet. So much of my work - and yes, I’m still working even though I’m retired from teaching - involves a computer on my lap. I do banking for myself and a client. I write. I exchange emails with friends, family and business associates. I store images. The laptop is one of my portals on the world, past and present. I cannot remember the last time I wanted to know something and couldn’t find out about it on the internet.

Last night, for example, I looked up the life span of Ignatius of Loyola after discussing the Society of Jesus with a friend. Ignatius was born in 1491 - just before Columbus discovered America - just before Muslims were driven from the Iberian Peninsula back to Africa after centuries of domination. As Ignatius grew to manhood, his country became the richest, most powerful on earth by taking in gold and silver from the New World. The Protestant Reformation rocked Europe. Ignatius founded the Jesuits and led the Counterreformation. Thoroughly engaged in the far-reaching ideas and events of his time, Ignatius died in 1556 at 65. He had been overwhelmed by world events as a young man and then chose to step back drastically to digest it all and seek direction. Then, all through the rest of his busy and productive life, he retreated periodically to process.A client's dock on Kezar Lake, Lovell

Not being bound to a classroom anymore gives me more time to absorb information, but not enough. I’ve subscribed to news feeds from many interesting and trusted sources but I still can’t read them all. I scroll down my email list and think: “I’ll read that one later and that one too,” but the lists still get longer. My server warns me that my inbox memory is reaching its limit and I must delete still-unread news feeds. It pains me to watch as information I can’t absorb vaporizes back into cyberspace. Reading a book is different. It’s all there in my hands and I can see where the end is. A good author fashions the information with a beginning, a middle, and an end and that can be comforting.

Ignatius went to live in a cave and pray all day to make sense of his world. While I’ve been visiting regional caves with my wife lately studying archaeology and geology, I don’t want to live in one. What I’m learning to do however, is tear myself away from my laptop periodically and go outside. I’ll drive around Kezar Lake and look over the properties I’m responsible for. Smelling fresh air and feeling a cool wind helps clear my head as I watch what light and wind do to the water’s surface. I’ll stroll around nearby archaeological sites and see what may have been turned up by wind and rain. Most days I can pick up a piece of stone discarded by an unknown someone centuries or even millennia before - and that can put the hyperactive 21st century into perspective for a while.

There’s a limit to what I can know and understand. I’ve been pressing against that ceiling lately and discovering I must be discerning about what I feed into the mill wheel between my ears. I have to be careful about what sort of grist my mind should grind, and how much. I have to glean the important and chuck the rest. Walking around outside helps that process.Kezar Lake, looking northwest

At such times I’m reminded of people I learned about when moving to Lovell thirty-four years ago. There were about a half-dozen women who wouldn’t come out of their houses for months at a time and then only briefly when nobody was looking. I pondered why there should be so many afflicted with what seemed to be agoraphobia in a small town of fewer than eight hundred souls. Was it because they’d grown up during the early twentieth century and couldn’t absorb the changes going on around them? Life in Lovell before electricity, paved roads, or automobiles was essentially a nineteenth-century existence. Then, all of a sudden there were radios, televisions, cars, planes, telephones all around bringing noise and information galore. Did all that overwhelm them and cause them to retreat into their more-controlled domestic environment where they would get news only when someone stopped by for a chat? It would be easier to process information that way. It could be measured out in digestible chunks and discussed with a familiar human being.Mount Washington from Christian Hill in Lovell

Lately, I’m trying to do that too. I’m arranging to spend time with others who have common interests, one at a time, and process things. So far, it’s helping.

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9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I miss being able to go and sit by the Harbor where I used to live.
Sometimes the ocean was placid and peaceful, other times it was wild and fierce with a Nor'easter howling in. Thats how my brain felt at different times. I found that I always felt better and my troubles became less important and it helped ease restless mind.
I do love my computer and the things it opens to me but there are moments when I just want everything to go away. Now I just stop at a scenic spot in the mountains and enjoy the beauty of nature.
Enjoy your time Tom, it can be taken away so quickly.

10/19/11, 10:29 AM  
Anonymous Texas Transplant said...

You have put into words what I have been striving (ineffectually) to comprehend. The acronym TMI applies to my capacity for understanding. I find it helpful to visualize a filter, and to let through only that which applies to my life, but then I start to wonder what is trapped in that filter that I should know to be better informed. Old age and a faulty memory is a great boon...

10/19/11, 11:01 AM  
Blogger Bradley said...

I truely believe as the information overload continues to grow it is clearly affecting the quality of life including how we view the world. We have become disrespectful, uncaring, self centered and unethical as a nation. Things are moving too quickly and we need to slow down.

Tom has seen the light. We need to take time, stand back and contemplate what we are doing. Catch your breath, enjoy the things and people that make you happy. Yes, find yourself a place to go, to think and relaxe. You'll be a better person for it.

10/19/11, 11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Three in a row agree with you Tom, is that some sort of record? :)

I guess I make it 4.

10/19/11, 4:18 PM  
Anonymous Ben said...

To paraphrase Socrates (I think it was him?) :

"If there's one thing I know it's that I know nothing."

10/19/11, 7:08 PM  
Anonymous Rhonda said...

I got tired of paying so much for cable TV. I still have memories of free TV, so I turned it off. My goal is to one day have free TV again, via an antennae on my roof. I may not get 100 channels, but all I really need is a news channel, just in case something earth shattering happens. I will want to watch, even though when 9-11 happened, and I was glued to the TV for three days, it, too, became overload. Now, without a TV, I check the major news websites a couple of times a day.

I recommend Findagrave.com to anyone who enjoys history, and enjoys getting outside, walking, and finding out who our ancestors are. When I walk about an old cemetery, taking pictures of old graves, I am getting sun, exercise, and history lessons. It's great, and I highly recommend it. By the way, I leave my phone in the car too. ;)

10/20/11, 2:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Been away Tom, but always enjoy coming back and seeing your great pictures! I use them as wall paper on this pc.

cheers
the other tom
;-)

10/22/11, 6:59 PM  
Anonymous DAWN said...

Most people nowadays are not thinking because it means investing time. They say and do things without giving it a second thought. That's why we're in such a mess today. The information age has not been entirely a good thing.

It's as tho nobody thinks for themselves anymore because they are so heavily influenced by the TMI world we live in today. There's not a whole lot we can do to escape it either because like a web, we are caught up in it and there's no easy way out.

Now we must work at making time to unplug and detox just so we can think clearly for ourselves.

10/24/11, 4:25 PM  
Anonymous Lee Conary said...

It's truly amazing that when we slow down, we are able to see.

10/25/11, 6:28 PM  

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