Staying Calm in the Age of Information

Cultivating calm in an noisy news environment

Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.

Every week we share three emails to help you build resilience and virtue with ancient philosophy. Each email includes one meditation on Stoic theory, one action to do in order to become more Stoic, and links to the best resources we’ve found.

This week we’re focusing on cultivating calm in an noisy news environment.

🏛️ Theory

A historically singular amount of information exists today.

In one estimate, the world of the ancient Stoics created about 1 billion gigabytes of information. The digital world of today has increased the amount of new information produced significantly – we now have at least 57 billion gigabytes. Now, I don’t exactly know what that means, but it’s a fine illustration of the fact that we’re surrounded by information.

Pauline Quintana illustrates information growth in Martin Gurri’s The Revolt of the Publi c.

Some of this information is excellent. It’s true and useful. Think of advances in the sciences and arts, and also our ability to reach back into history. It's amazing that we can read the great works of the past today.

However, so much information is low-quality too. It’s not accurate or important. When it is correct, it’s misleading. Further, there’s a serious negativity bias. Much of what we read or listen to reflects the anxieties of the age.

We need to sort through this environment with care. Living in the digital age requires developing epistemic virtues – positive habits of mind and thought. With traits like diligence, vigilant open-mindedness, and fairness we can discover what is true.

There is another aspect to this issue: we should not pollute the information environment ourselves.

This isn’t a concern limited to the internet. The Stoic Cato the Younger said:

I begin to speak only when I’m certain what I’ll say isn’t better left unsaid.

Cato the Younger

By applying Cato’s rule and only sharing information that we have conviction in, we are forced to prioritize. We keep our purposes top of mind. This strategy makes meetings focused, instead of wasting them on trivial details. It promotes discourse focused on the truth, rather than the sensational.

Different contexts demand different kinds of speech. The Roman public knew Cato the Younger for his stern and principled demeanor. Yet he also held engaging dinner parties with friends. There’s a time for creative speculation and a time for rigorous speech.

In this noisy world, it is more important than ever to keep our information environment clean. We each have a part to play. If you have nothing nice or true to say, say nothing at all.

🎁 Free Book

Want the learn more about Cato the Younger?

The best way to learn about the Stoic role model is to read Rome’s Last Citizen.

And we’re running a giveaway of the book this month. To win a signed copy, refer The Stoa Letter to 7 people who would find it useful. If you do that, we’ll send you send you a free copy.

Learn more about our referral rewards below.

🎯 Action

Improve your information environment. Make one change to your inputs (information you consume) or outputs (information you produce or share).

🔗 Links

🤼 Philosophy is like athletics - this article by Michael Tremblay, BJJ blackbelt and co-founder of Stoa, covers the importance of putting our philosophy into practice and how the Stoics saw this process as being similar to sports.

🎧️ Michael Tremblay spoke with Julia Galef for Stoa Conversations:

They discuss of scout vs soldier mindset. Scout mindset involves using reason to map the world and see it as it is. Soldier mindset concerns using reason to defend positions we already have and disprove positions that make us uncomfortable. Thinking through the tradeoffs of both ways of thinking is a necessary for cultivating epistemic virtue.

🧠 I’ve been reading the The Knowledge – a weekly newsletter from David Elikwu to help you think deeper, work smarter, and decide better. Subscribe for free here. I found his stuff by listening to a number of interviews he’s done for The Knowledge podcast. Recommended!

🖼️ Time for a comic. Stoicism is something to be done for our own improvement, not to show off to others:

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