The Minimalism of Not Knowing

Words by Leo Babauta

These days, nearly everything we want to know is a few keystrokes away, almost instantly gratifying our desire to know something.

What’s the weather like outside? Do a quick check of your weather app. Who the heck is Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Ask Wikipedia. Who is the lead boy actor in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom? Search IMDB.com. Google, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, et al will tell you anything you want to know, right now.

Isn’t that incredible? Just 25 years ago, that was unthinkable. If you wanted to know something, you might turn on the TV and hope to get lucky, or look in your encyclopedias (if you had them) and hope to get lucky, or go to the library and hope to get lucky. Most of the time, you had to settle on not knowing.

One of the things I’ve noticed from turning off my computer periodically throughout the day (I work in 30-minute chunks), is that when the computer is off, I often think of a question I want answered—and my first instinct is to go to the computer and search. I’d know in like 4 seconds!

But then I pause, and examine that urge. Is it a true need, to know right now? Can I not wait 30 minutes, or even a few hours, or a day? Of course I can. It’s not a matter of life or death, or national security, or anything important really.

And so I stop myself, and make a note to look it up later. Then I notice something else interesting: not knowing is a strange phenomena to me, now. Not knowing is something I am not familiar with. OK, sure, there are a gazillion things I don’t know, every moment of my life, but when I want to know something, I will usually know, really really quickly. Now I don’t know something I want to know, for at least half an hour, sometimes more.

And then I realize: this is a strange freedom. Not knowing something means I am walking around blind, without a direct path, and I must live with that, work with that. It’s interesting. It’s a different way of living. How our ancestors must have lived! (Or, you know, me in the early 90s.)

Not knowing isn’t bad. It’s just different. And really, I think there’s something minimalist about it. Let’s let go of the need to know, every second of the day, and let our minds wander around in the dark for a bit.

Leo Babauta

Zen Habits is a blog written by Leo Babauta about implementing zen habits in daily life. It offers suggestions for how to live and also includes frequent references to how Leo Babauta has implemented these habits. He covers topics such as simplifying, living frugally, parenting, happiness, motivation, eliminating debt, saving, eating healthily and successfully implementing good habits.

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