In the midst of a pleasant two-week road trip with my family, I observed something of note. Interrupting my view of the rolling grasslands of central Oregon and the twisting turns of California’s Highway 101, were “Adopt-A-Highway” signs. Standard issue: small, square. Oregon’s were green. You’ve seen them. Some person or group pays the state for the responsibility of keeping this particular mile clean and in return, gets free advertising.
As we barreled down the highway, I noticed a pattern that bugged me. I was reading these signs. Every one of them. Eugene Lions Club. Clary Honda. Ben & Nancy Johnson. Albany High School 4-H. Bend Firefighters. I couldn’t NOT read them. Out of some subconscious, unavoidable curiosity, I was taking my eyes off of the road to see who had adopted the mile on which we were driving. Ridiculous.
I try to be an efficient person, so at some point I committed to ignore the signs. “I don’t need to know who adopted this highway. Pay attention to driving.” Interestingly, I found that I had to exert intentional willpower to avoid reading the signs after sensing them in my periphery. Protecting my mind against this useless information became a deliberate act.
Natalie and Brittany
Such is the case with every information stream in our lives. Apps, feeds, email, conversations. We routinely give permission to people, companies, agencies, and algorithms to bombard us with useless information. Facebook is the preeminent conduit. News channels are up there, too.
Here’s another example.
I woke up this morning and checked my Apple News Feed to find that Natalie Imbruglia’s lone hit “Torn” is a cover and that Brittany Spears apparently isn’t wearing make-up. Utterly useless information, but it’s in my brain now and I feel bad for letting it in.
Here’s the bottom line.
Surviving the modern day has become an exercise in expending cognitive resources to sort the important from the mounds of irrelevant. For anyone who is trying achieve something meaningful, doing so is terribly derailing. It’s bad if it’s happening. It’s worse if you’re not aware it’s happening.
Take a moment and scan your life for Adopt-A-Highway signs. I’m gonna go edit my Apple News Feed settings…
If you’d like a jumpstart at removing the excess from your life and focusing on the essential, check out this book: