To Cull or Surrender: The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re All Going To Miss Almost Everything


When I was an undergraduate at Indiana University, I was an English major looking to learn more about Literature. I carried several Norton Anthologies in my backpack, each one a large cinderblock of the best writing from a specific era.

I studied Chaucer, Shakespeare, essays from the Victorian era, poetry of all shapes and sizes, and the list just went on and on and on. In my Freshman year, I remember meeting a Teaching Assistant named Marcus. I would often talk with him after class, and in one such conversation I expressed how overwhelmed I was.

There’s just so much Literature to read, I told him, I’m just not sure how someone is supposed to be able to learn it all.

At that comment, I got a good laugh from him. Marcus then told me about how no one is expected to know everything, and that most people eventually specialize – focusing on a particular field. In talking with him, that conversation was one of those pivotal college moments: a specific instance where your worldview suddenly gets nudged a few inches in a different direction.

I recently read a thought-provoking and incredibly well-written essay by Linda Holmes, entitled The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re All Going To Miss Almost Everything. Opening with a short bit of math, it’s eye-opening to hear just how difficult it would be to keep up with something as specific as the books written within the last 250 years. Even if you were to read at a very aggressive pace, Holmes points out that with each passing year… more new material is being generated.

Our technology hasn’t helped us in this regard, as we have more people, generating more content for us to consume. Beyond just books there’s movies, television, video games, plays, music… the list goes on and on.

The most compelling part of the essay is her focus on how we deal with this overabundance of stuff out there. At the end of the day, we’re left with two options: culling and surrender. Culling involves determining what is and isn’t worth your time; surrender is acknowledging that there are things out there worth your time… but that you can’t get to.

Culling is easy; it implies a huge amount of control and mastery. Surrender, on the other hand, is a little sad. That’s the moment you realize you’re separated from so much.

There are a lot of great lines that I want to quote here, but it’s a short article. I’d say that it’s definitely something worth your time to check out, but… I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

[via MetaFilter, CC Photo via Daniel Bachhuber]

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