Essay / Education

From Information to Wisdom

Counter-intuitive as it may seem, education is a college student’s job. You don’t get a salary, you don’t get health or retirement benefits or paid vacation, but it is still your job, and a peculiar one at that. You do not make things or sell things. You neither maintain nor fix things. You are a what Paul Spears called an “intellectual craftsman”. The materials for your labor are, in the main, information, and the hoped-for products even more intangible: wisdom and character.

But how do you transmute base information into the gold of wisdom? It is so tempting in the age of Google and Wikipedia to think of knowledge as an easy click away, but the mere accumulation of bits and bytes by itself is only so much dead weight on the mind. Even a savvy organization of a mountain of information into nested folders of annotated PDFs tagged with metadata is only fool’s gold if what you’re after is more than a computer made of meat. I can testify how easy it is to be satisfied with an afternoon spent collecting and organizing information and thereby avoiding the task of thinking really hard and trying to write what I really think. I know how an easy, time-intensive, but ultimately hollow accomplishment lures me away from real, focused work aiming at a glimmer of wisdom. I know the siren-call of “just checking that one thing first”, a call that I once easily ignored when I would have had to walk 10 minutes to get to the library. In a world of wireless access to…just about anything…knowing when and how to walk away from the information highway and into a space for leisure of mind is an essential virtue.

If college for you is more than just a paper professional qualification but a time to pursue wisdom, you need leisure. Without time for study carried out with leisure of mind, you pass mere information back to the professors who handed it to you in the first place.

And the good news is that digital tools need not be your enemies; rather, you should deploy the tech in your life to carve out both the time and the leisure of mind to truly pursue truth and reflect on what you are reading and hearing.

When it comes to your time, your handling of the tons of information coming your way, or your writing, there are loads of cheap or free aids to help you clear the decks of your mind in order to devote your main energies to the main things. By all means, go check out things like Evernote or Circus Ponies or SimpleNote. Play with Google calendar and GQueues. Try something besides Word for your writing (like Scrivener or WriteRoom or the old innovation of pen and paper). But don’t get tricked by the fun or thin successes that mere mastery of tech tools offer. Turn your tools to your proper task: creating, protecting, and then digging into a time for the leisure of mind to avidly pursue the truth, learn to love it, and live by it, thereby transforming information into wisdom.

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