Saturday, November 05, 2011

One Step to Improving Your Life

I've read more than a few books in my life, but I've fastidiously avoided anything that is labelled "self-help." I'd always thought that "self-help" literature is mislabeled, that true self-help doesn't require somebody else's thoughts and directions written, bound, and sold. But given that a 2001 book labeled "self-help" is required reading for a class I'm taking, I've found myself exploring some new territory.

Because I've been vigilant to the point of not even surveying this type of literature in the past, I don't know to what extent this book is representative of the genre, but I've come away impressed. The author, John Gottman, is a researcher who has decades of first-hand observational data that he uses as a basis for his theories and suggestions in the area of interpersonal communication and relationships. Wikipedia tells me that he has been profiled and interviewed by many media outlets over the years (and I came to realize that I've previously read about his work in Malcolm Gladwell's Blink).

So in short, I've become convinced that this guy has knowledge and suggestions that everybody can benefit from knowing about--and I'm inclined to think that there are some marriages that could be saved and relationships that could be salvaged if only people were exposed to Gottman's ideas. But there is no guarantee that any person, much less the people who most need to access these ideas, will discover this book. Particularly as bookstores keep cycling new books through and discarding old ones and broadcasters mine for novel content, even legitimately meaningful ideas get lost in the shuffle.

Meanwhile, a study was publicized this week linking prolonged sitting to cancer. While I suppose you could make the case that this information is not Earth-shattering, that it is well known that a sedentary lifestyle leads to greater health concerns, I would still assert that this is important information, that it has far-reaching implications in the fields of business, entertainment, and education. And I'm sure there was some casual discussion and attention paid to this study on Twitter this week, perhaps on a few talk shows, and maybe a few people seriously thought about making life changes. But I predict that five years from now, almost nobody outside of medical researchers, including the people who talked or thought about it this week, will remember this study.

We may be living in the information age, but we are nowhere near perfecting information flow, ensuring that the right information reaches the right people. Government, education, and media are probably the most prominent institutions we've tasked with figuring out how to achieve this, but government is tied down by bureaucracy and inertia, schools are doing all they can to meet baselines, benchmarks, and standards, and the media is beholden to the new and the sensational. Ideally, there would be some kind of national clearinghouse to vet and distribute information, but in practice such an agency would probably perpetuate a distopia.

So until Google comes up with the right algorithm to somehow match existing but obscure theories with the people who would most benefit from examining and applying them, we're on our own. And until then, I've learned that it helps to be a little open-minded about where to look for them.


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