That’ll be all, thank you

Lend this post a little patience, and read this excerpt

That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

“You appear to be astonished,” he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. “Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.”

“To forget it!”

“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

“But the Solar System!” I protested.

“What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently; “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

Mister Sherlock Holmes must’ve startled not only Dr. Watson, who was to become his trusted friend later, but also the readers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book called A Study in Scarlet. When I first read this as a dreamy-headed school girl, I was amused at the thought of someone choosing to not know information thrust at him. Someone after my heart, he seemed to be. But I wouldn’t have the audacity to tell my Maths teacher that algorithms and calculus were of no use to me, would I? So I just allowed myself a chuckle or two. Coming back to Mr. Holmes’ philosophy, let me tell you that after subsequent re-reads (and there’ve been many), I began to see some logic in what he has so succinctly put (Forgive me if I mention him as if he did walk this earth) -“…for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before…”

Fast forward to today’s world, where I maintain three e-mail accounts, one for business, two for pleasure (!). The latter ones are inundated with forwarded mails promising good cheer/awesome knowledge/memorable laughs/unmentionable humour, and several other things that could easily put Mr. Holmes’ spartan mind-room in a spin. And I receive a good amount of them on a daily basis. How will my poor room look like with all the clutter? The pink kittens waving at me, mewing that the world is beautiful; the world’s swankiest hotel rooms telling me I’ve earned zilch; the lovely maple trees in Canada reminding me I love red autumn but will probably not see it today. So much information. Such temptation for a curious mind. It is difficult to handle. Much like a supermarket full of mouth-watering food, or that onslaught of mean reminders at school that probably eating 650.5 calories per day will make me look like whatshername. I’ve been tired of these various suns vying for attention for some time now. Suns that tell me to revolve, just for this one moment.

I open these mails and text messages, not read them and go back to the Inbox to open another. This routine is mainly because I do not like unread mails and I do not wish to read forwards.  Since I do not wish to delete them either, I keep them in store for a rainy day when I might need good cheer/awesome knowledge/memorable laughs/unmentionable humour, and one of the several other things. During this routine, however, someone’s solar system does come within my radar’s sensors, and I add a furniture or two to my not-so-spartan mind-room. The room had to protest. It had to happen. One such promised keep-up-with-the-world forward broke my camel’s back today.

It was a video of mama elephant delivering baby elephant in Bali zoo. How splendid the work of Mother Nature! Despite foreboding of something unpleasant about to come, I kept watching the mother struggle to get the baby out. It did finally come out, along with ponds full of its mother’s body fluids. The presenter was in awe. He had to be, he’s an elephant watcher. But what was I doing, watching the video? I did feel a certain sense of awe, being privy to Mother Elephant’s personal success, and her patience and concern, but why, really should I watch a recorded video of elephant delivery? That is when the back broke.

Information overload is another in the list of immoderate indulgences we face on a daily basis. And like all other things, we notice it only when it is time to consult a  commercial guru. No one else is equipped to handle such blatant imbalance. At least that is what the gurus tell us. Don’t you think it is like having an invisible hand controlling your own and forcing you to eat, eat, eat? All along it is your own hand, actually. But you have to go to someone to help you beat the stars out of the invisible hand so that you can control your own. Phew. So much work will make any self-respecting 21st century citizen say “I’m beat.”

Just a little help from Holmes will be enough, though. I said ‘No!’ to algorithms and calculus back in school and am walking with my head held high, regardless. I might have had the experience of watching an elephant birth while I’d rather have not stared at my computer screen. But I’d like to say now, “That’ll be all.”

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6 thoughts on “That’ll be all, thank you”

  1. I am in utter agreement, and I can attest to the wisdom of what you’ve written here because I began, about a year ago, to empty out my life.

    “Simplify, simplify…” says Thoreau, and its wisdom applies to every realm of life. Possessions, of course. That’s where most people start. But also daily routines, relationships, all of those “must-dos” that we live with. I “must” spend an hour and a half in the morning doing my hair and applying makeup? Says who? Well, cosmetic manufacturers, self-help gurus and friends who want everyone to follow their routines so they don’t get left warming up their hot rollers while other people are out living life.

    As for the cyber-business… it’s even more insidious, but it can be controlled. It took a year to clear my mailbox of those cute kittens and old age jokes. Every time one arrived, I sent a lovely email to the sender saying, “Uh – I just deleted your email and would prefer to be taken off your “forward all” list”. When I get one now, it’s almost always relevant, personal and from a friend who sends it in the context of an explanatory email. All good.

    As for the rest? I don’t text. Period. When I recently discovered you have to pay for the priviledge, that only increased my resolve. I tweet only to publicize my new blog posts. Otherwise, I use twitter to keep up with local traffic jams and chemical plant explosions. My television is gone, although I keep a radio for weather bulletins.

    Oh. And Facebook? Tried it, discovered I could spend my whole life updating my status for people who are more interested in updating their status, and quit. (Caveat: if I had a large, far-flung family, I could see a use for Facebook. But I don’t.)

    So there you have it. I enjoyed the post, totally agree and am well on my way to designing the solar system to my specifications, thank you very much!

    1. It is the ‘must-dos’ we’ve collected that make us so imbalanced. How often do we hear “It was so good back then”? It is probably because people back then knew how to keep things simple, and did not have to reach the stage of un-cluttering.
      Or probably we didn’t get a chance to peep into their lives. Globalisation and general interest have taken a whole new shape. I know what Hugh Jackman wore for his dog-walk yesterday. Of course I know it because I make the effort of opening up a certain website and looking at the latest masala, and it is totally up to me to choose not to. But millions of people like me, who can’t decide the amount of planets they want in their solar systems or the furniture in their mind-room (or any other analogy they prefer), are teetering towards an overload of sorts. So many short-circuits.
      You chose the right path. Don’t your friends feel offended, though, when you tell them to stop forwarding? I have two friends who refuse to touch anything remotely close to forwards (and most internet-based info-sources), including my blog. They simply refuse. Good for them that they have a good soul in me who quite understands. 🙂

  2. It’s a neat trick we learn as we mature. We recognize time, more and more, as a finite commodity. We can’t increase the amount of time we have in life, but we can decrease the amount we waste – so we are, in a sense, gaining time. The process is personal though. What you may see as taking up valuable space in your attic may be something I see as indispensable. I’m satisfied knowing the Earth orbits the sun, while an astronomer analyzes a thousand related details about that orbit. When I was young, I could rattle off the batting averages of a hundred baseball players. My attic space, and my time, are much too important for that now.

    Thank you, Priya, for this well-written and thought-stimulating post. I also like the way you slipped in the word swankiest. Or did you think I missed it?

    1. You are absolutely right, Charles. We do tend to mature. Or some of us do.
      And even more right about the preferences in choosing the knowledge we wish to retain. I suppose that’s the reason why all of us have such different and unique personalities. So many factors contribute in making us what we are.
      Swankiest! Hoped you’d notice. 😉

  3. Mmm… am with you on most of this. I also reach saturation levels with the amount of information coming at me from the internet, but equally I reach the same saturation point from stuff coming at me from inside myself. I’m just the sort of person who gets overwhelmed. That said, I don’t like an empty attic except it would be nice to draw the curtains (if there are any curtains in there!) at night so that my mind would turn off and I could sleep. If my attic were empty, or rather if its contents were minimal, I’d feel unwell as I need a fairly constant supply of ‘newness’. What does me in is the repetition of the same stuff that the internet does so well (and ad nauseum). Those kittens and positive messages and ‘you musts’ and ‘you shoulds’ and suchlike that well-meaning people send one – really do my head in! Everyone does it, so everyone else has to follow suit? Why? I don’t understand that.

    I dislike Forwarded emails, and rarely open them. Sometimes I send a message to the sender and say “Please don’t” but I don’t really like to offend people and most people are offended by it, so I just choose not to open most of them. My feeling about them, though, is this: If someone wants to be in email contact with me, I’d like it to be because they value me as an individual, not as ‘just another person’ to swamp with stuff that’s been all around the ‘net and back again many, many time.

    1. Oops, I mixed responses. So here’s the one for this..

      I quite agree with the empty mind-attic being a bit of an unnecessary extreme. And I am beginning to notice that every time I have something to discuss, I normally lean towards the importance of moderation. It’s like do what you want, only as long as you don’t tug at the leash.

      About forwards. I haven’t yet got myself to say “Please stop” But I just might. For the same reasons as yours.

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