The Freedom of Impossibility

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Brad Frost
Brad Frost speaks at the April 2013 Creative Mornings in Pittsburgh

I’ve written before about my desire to have it all. Not only do I want to consume all of the good books, movies, TV shows, and games ever created, I also want to be everything. I think, if I just had a little more time, I could learn to build stuff, play guitar, make movies, design games, write books … oh, and of course raise wonderful kids who understand not to over-commit themselves.

It’s why, even though I already have piles of unread books and unplayed games, I’m still backing more board games on Kickstarter to add to the piles. Just wait—when my kids are off to college and I do whatever it is that passes for retirement for stay-at-home dads, I’ll get caught up. Right?

Riiiiight.

I always knew, in the back of my mind, that this desire is ultimately untenable. I don’t have time to read all of the great books that are already in existence, let alone everything that is being written now. But one particular statistic really drove that home for me recently: according to YouTube, in 2013 more than 100 hours of video are uploaded every minute.

Think about that for a minute. (Oh, here comes another 100 hours of video.)

Even assuming Sturgeon’s Revelation that 90% of everything is crap, that’s still 10 hours of non-crappy video. Let’s say you sleep 8 hours a day, and spend 2 hours a day on other things like eating and showering, and the rest of your day just watching YouTube. If you lived until you were 85, you would have seen less than a month’s worth of uploads—and that’s just the good stuff.

This week I came across Brad Frost’s talk from Creative Mornings Pittsburgh. (Note: since this is a family blog, I should point out that the title is “Death to Bulls–t” and he uses that term throughout the talk, so be forewarned.) He expounds on this a little more, citing statistics like the number of Tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram photos, books published, including the frightening statistic that 90% of all data that exists was created in the past two years.

So what does that mean for me?

Well, my little back-of-the-napkin math convinces me that it’s completely impossible to watch all the good stuff on YouTube in my lifetime, let alone have time for anything else. Yeah, I know, it was already impossible anyway, but that 100 hours statistic really highlighted for me how extreme that impossibility actually is.

I like Frost’s response to the problem of information overload, which basically boils down to: focus on the good stuff. If you’re making things, try to be in the 10% that isn’t crap. For me, it means I don’t need have to finish every single book I start. As Thoreau said, “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”

The sheer impossibility of having it all gives me freedom. As a blogger, I’m never going to be able to write about everything that I think is cool—but that’s okay. You won’t have time to read it all, anyway. As a consumer, maybe I can spend more time enjoying the things I already have, and not worrying about what else is out there that I haven’t seen yet.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some books to alphabetize.

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