Have you ever noticed just how rich the world around you is with information? Even the subtlest ‘bits’ of information can impact you like a dripping tap in the next room. It’s there but perhaps not front and centre in your mind.
The sad reality is that we live in a seemingly unrestricted world of ram-it-down-your-throat-with-no-regard-for-the-effects.
In a short car journey from my home to town the other day I found myself drawn to everything. Immediately after pulling away from my drive I was confronted by two white vans with their businesses painted all over their sides – plumbing, joinery, you get the idea.
A few seconds later whilst waiting to join the main road a series of trucks raced past – Haulage, Logistics, Supermarkets. Then delivery vans – DPD, Royal Mail.
Just outside of the town centre I sat in a queue of traffic.
The car in front had a sticker in its window proudly advertising (I assume) the driver’s laundry business with a website URL and mobile phone number.
Across the street various signs were stood advertising real estate agents with a phone number.
In the rear view mirror another van with its driver’s electrics business just about legible in reverse and beneath a thick layer of dirt.
As I drove into the town centre the information was more colourful, more deliberate. It blinked and flashed and screamed urgency. Farmer’s market THIS WEEKEND. Car Rally NEXT WEEKEND. Christmas Fayre EVERY WEEKEND IN DECEMBER.
By the time I’d parked I was exhausted. Thoroughly exhausted. Not with the drive. I make that journey frequently and could probably make the same journey for the next 100 years with my eyes stapled. No, I was mentally exhausted with the amount of information I had absorbed. I’d even forgotten why the hell I’d made the journey to town in the first place.
Like a fool I sought respite in my mobile phone and flicked open the email app. A dozen or more emails filled the screen. All of them wanting me to spend money.
And that was the problem with every piece of information I’d absorbed en route to town – they all wanted my money. They all wanted my business. Even though the information might not have been aggressive in that sense, the underlying intention behind each sign was to attract my interest and win my business – win my income.
I took a few minutes to switch off. I turned the car’s engine off, powered down the mobile phone and took my glasses off. It was a beautiful, crisp and sunny morning. It was that sort of morning that you can get as Autumn turns to Winter. Blue skies and everything seemingly presented with HDR.
I left the car and walked through the town toward the coffee shop (I remembered I was meeting a friend for breakfast). As I walked across the cobbles I made a point of not looking in shop windows or at the vans parked randomly beside the road. I avoided anything that might have been trying to ‘attract my attention’ and instead wore a warm smile and made eye contact with people. Some of those people must have thought I was crazy but I didn’t care. Looking into a stranger’s eyes seemed far more comforting than staring at a website address or a mobile phone number for ‘BOB’S PLUMBING SERVICES’.
In the cafe I found a seat and spoke with the owner (whom I know) for a few minutes. I ordered something to drink and sat waiting for my friend. When she arrived she placed her bag and mobile phone on the table. I stared at the phone and with some kind of a Jedi will I seemed to encourage her to place the phone in her bag.
We spent a couple of hours just talking, laughing and putting the world straight. We didn’t moan about the things that we could have moaned about (politics, Brexit, money…) and instead just enjoyed talking about our children and our creativity (we’re both artists).
For the rest of the day I opted not to return home and continue working on client projects. Instead I took off into the countryside in search of unspoiled nature. Green fields, woodland, hills. I’m lucky in that I live just five minutes from all of that.
Later that afternoon I spent some time with my girlfriend and then collected my children. By the time the day was done and I could relax in bed I’d made a firm mental note not to allow random pieces of information to affect me so intensely as it had done to that point. I clearly can’t walk around oblivious to my immediate surroundings but I can certainly choose what I allow to impact my mind’s state. I can simply switch off to ‘noise’ and tune in more to the ‘signals’ that are relevant to me.