Being in an age of much technological innovation, we are inundated by information. Every day YouTube uploads 576,000 hours worth of content every single day. Facebook generates 4 new petabytes of data every single day. In the United States alone, there were 304,912 books published in the single year of 2013. Assuming one reads 30 books a year, it would take about 10,164 years to get through all these books. If we live till 80 and we read at a rate of 30 books a year from the age of 15, that would require 156 lifetimes to consume a single year of all North American Content! In this, we have to be selective of who and what we read – to find the quality amidst the quantity.

As there is so much information, it is impossible to consume all of it. A way to tackle this is insurmountable problem is to consider the type of information that we are consuming. There is a rate at which information declines at, and certain mediums of information decline faster than others.

If you were to buy a newspaper in the morning, by the time it reaches the evening the paper becomes more or less unsellable as people would simply buy the next day’s paper tomorrow. Instagram and Facebook stories are essentially filled with the random moments of people’s lives. You are presented with a never ending buffet of other people’s lunches and dinners for you to salivate and envy because you won’t eat them – yet they will eventually dissipate after a 24 hours. Instagram and Facebook posts essentially degrade after a few days where after it’s initial spread to respective news feeds via an algorithm, it is later shelved somewhere in the dungeons of the colossal data servers of such titanic social media sites. This then begs the question – if this type of information decays at such a fast rate, is it worth spending the effort knowing it at all? Does it have any objective benefit to the individual in the long term?

Books are slightly a step up from that aforementioned, because the information in books are sifted via a drafting process often spanning many months. This drafting process would essentially force the writer to consider the most significant points that he should make in the most concise manner possible. Yet as mentioned in the first paragraph of this blog post, it would require 156 lifetimes to get through all the books of 2013 from the US.

Time is usually a great sieve in which to test the relevance of a work. For any work to be referred to as ‘timeless’, the work must be required to transcend its immediate context and audience in which it’s principles are applicable till this day. For instance, the immediate context of Sun Tzu’s Art of War is to address military strategy and tactics for medieval warfare. However, the principles of the book has found much relevance in the fields of business, sport, politics etc., of which the notion of war or conflict has metamorphosed to have metaphorical meaning. I am certain Sun Tzu did not intend his work to be for helping business tactics, however the passage of time were unable to erode the principles which are contained in the work. Thus, the Art of War has attained the high description of ‘timeless’. It is these ‘timeless’, classic works that addresses a fundamental facet of the human condition across the centuries. Reason being is that though epochs may change, the nature and inclinations of man do not. Hence, there is much reason to spend time reading the classics as it is unlikely that the knowledge and wisdom they impart will decay as time passes by.

At the same time however, the cliched adage of “don’t judge a book by its cover” still stands firm. You can’t be certain of the effect that the book will have on you until you read it from cover to cover, regardless whether it is a classic, a children’s story, a comedy or the newspaper. Furthermore, the effect of a book read by a person would be distinct to another because each individual is unique – bringing their own unique set of experiences. In this way, reviews are quite subjective as profound insight can certainly be different from one person to another.

Yet when we do come across a book that is life changing – the cost of not reading it is quite severe. Despite our time constraints, we should still strive to find the works in that which will change our perspective in viewing the world for the better. Somehow, we should still dredge through the mounds of dirt out there to try finding nuggets of wisdom.

Qohelet, the author of Ecclesiastes, (some debate the author to be Solomon however it is inconclusive) made a haunting statement near the end of his book:

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

Ecclesiastes 12:11-12 (ESV)

Indeed, the making of many books are ceaseless – as demonstrated earlier. Moreover, the study of these books require much mental effort. Much information is but an ephemeral breath like the fleeting dew of the morning, or the grass of spring. Information of a higher quality can last as a longer breath that may last lifetimes, or even be regarded as “timeless”. Yet, everything will eventually pass away one day. The Prophet Isaiah makes a great point on the Word of God – which will never fade away.

“A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

Isaiah 40:6‭-‬8 (ESV)