How and why to embrace the power of ignorance

While many people know all about consumer products, reality TV stars and pop music, 20% of Americans can't name a single branch of government. 70% can't name a single living scientist. And half of Americans can't name a single Supreme Court Justice.

In the 20th Century and before, knowledge was rare and hard to get. If you didn't read books, seek out information and actively learn, you simply didn't have knowledge. You were generally ignorant.

The absence of good information was no information.

We live in a different world now.

Now, social media, advertising and ubiquitous media push information at us from every direction. It's not information that serves us. It serves the pushers. Just showing up on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or TikTok means that the information starts flowing. Browsing the web gives you not only what you're searching for, but advertising galore. Same with TV. Driving down the street exposes you to an ever growing amount of advertising content.

Our motivations for seeking knowledge are being hacked in an increasingly asymmetrical battle over our attention. Billions of dollars per year are being poured into science and engineering designed to exploit our brains to make us crave the next nugget of useless content. Year after year, the machines get better at using us. We're the targets of a global effort to grab our attention, and we're often not even aware that it's happening. Even on TV, news has been replaced with polarizing, grand-standing talking heads who grab attention by vilifying those "other people," leading viewers to see politics as good guys vs. bad guys and have no useful information about policy or platform.

Today, the absence of good information results in you learning bad information automatically and by default.

If we do nothing, our heads will be filled with junk content. The amount of time we spend being spoon-fed garbage information will grow. That's why so many people today know all about the TikTok "influencer" of the moment, but can't find China on a map.

We live in a theoretical information utopia. We can read just about any book, take any of thousands of university courses from Harvard and MIT and others, learn how to do anything on YouTube, use Google Search to find out just about anything.

A million years of ignorance caused by the scarcity of information is over. Now, the main barrier to good knowledge is a media and advertising landscape that overwhelms us and consumes our time and attention with bad knowledge.

It's time to realize that blocking junk content, avoiding the algorithms that seek to hook you, is something of an art and a skill to cultivate.

In other words, we have to cultivate ignorance on a wide range of pointless subjects in order to be knowledgeable about useful and interesting subjects.

So how do we remain ignorant of useless information?

Here are my 16 powerful approaches to avoiding, resisting and blocking junk knowledge (link goes to the paid version of my email newsletter, Mike's List)