Imagine a blank slate. That’s the perfect representation of our brain when we’re born. Called also tabula rasa, this theory explains that individuals are born without any inherent mental content or purpose to guide them. Nothing is literally everything that exists between our cute little ears when we emerge into this world.1
While the above is the sophisticated way of saying that we’re born empty-headed and that our experiences and what we consume eventually shapes us. In this post, I’m going to argue that you are what you consume because of what you want to consume.
I know, it sounds like a deliberately confusing mind game, but I promise it’s easy to get.
You see, there are a ton of articles online that state that you are what you consume.
Titles like these dominate the search results: What We Consume Determines The Lives We Live; What You Consume You Become; Consumption and Identity. Are we what we consume? Yes… etc.
Sadly, these articles miss an important point.
Yes, what you consume shapes who you become.
Ultimately, though. You are what you consume because of what you want to consume.
Before the consumption phase, there is an inner desire that pushes you towards a particular spectrum of books, articles, movies, people, etc.
To prove this to you, I will use a cup, a smartphone, and a strange reference for changing tires. OK, I’m also going to include my 2-year-old son.
Let’s dig in:
We Are The Information We Consume
First things first.
Here’s a cup:
This is what the inside of our brain looks like when we materialize.
Not stupid, simply not yet biased nor persuaded by a modern doctrine that aims to convince us that their God is the only God.
But I’m not going to talk about makers.
I’m going to talk about information.
When my son was born, I reached the following realization: If my son was born in the US, or in England, and if I talked to him only in English. English, then, will be the norm for him.
Nothing else will exist for him until he is able to understand my teachings of geography that he probably currently transcribes as me pointing out different things at a ball (the world globe) and talking gibberish.
Since he is unfamiliar with the available languages. With the concept of the Earth being a sphere and with planets in general. That there are continents and countries. That there are different types of people in different countries who have different currencies, laws, traditions, and languages. He’ll think that there is no other language than English. And certainty he won’t call it English, not even a language.
It was a simple realization yet an important one.
Basically, I pour the language I speak into his mind as I speak it, ounce by ounce.
This kind of proves that we are what we consume.
We can expand this concept.
My actions. And therefore my inactions, are also absorbed by my son’s young brain.
He is consuming them in one way or another.
If playing video games and mouthing profanities is what I primarily do. Then, quite obviously, he’ll adopt these “skills” and the verbal “jujitsu” that he’ll eventually hear from somewhere.
Parents are quite familiar with this concept, I think.
Here’s another example: I don’t expect my son to grab my phone and suddenly start sending emails or texts. I should, first, explain how this can be done and also why it can be helpful. As I explained how he can use YouTube – I still regret it, but it was inevitable.
This leads to the expansion of the “we are what we consume” concept:
We Are What We Consume Because of What We Want To Consume
Currently, when Alexey, my son, approaches my phone, he thinks that it’s mainly for watching videos on YouTube. He is still unaware of all the possibilities this simple gadget can provide.
This is true for two reasons:
First, since he hasn’t experienced all the other options my phone provides – he has only consumed videos. He thinks that this gadget is only for that purpose.
Secondly, which I think it’s more important here, he’s careless of all other options that my phone can perform because he’s not interested in learning them – at least at this current moment. He knows about that one thing which is enough for him to feel good.
He’s currently 2 if you’re wondering.
Clearly, there is a correlation between the two.
My son is not interested in learning about what other functions my phone can perform because the one function he’s aware of satisfies his current interests and wants – to have fun.
See where we’re getting?
We can same something similar in relation to using social media.
You’re probably not interested in learning about how to use social media to start and grow a business because the one function you currently use social media for satisfies your current wants – to have a good time.
Or in other words, not that there aren’t opportunities in the world. We are simply not interested in learning about them.
I’ll talk about this in more detail in a bit.
Back to my son…
So, the one function on my phone my son is familiar with is enough for him to have a good time.
But is this enough for him to grow up?
I can, theoretically, expand his knowledge of how my phone can be used by downloading a video game that’s surely easy to use and show him how to use it. Given his extremely adaptive skills to tech, I’m sure that he’ll get it in less than 10 minutes.
Yet again, is this what he needs?
But it’s what he wants.
I’ve tried to explain my reading app and all the books I have there but he was stubbornly uninterested in hearing about them. He wanted to watch videos and that was final.
Before you label me as a bad parent, think about the following:
Are we what we consume or are we what we want to consume?
I think that these two co-exist in our heads and they both feed on each other.
It’s kind of like a loop:
If you’re not interested in learning about biochemistry. You won’t consume information about biochemistry. Therefore, you will remain ignorant about the field of biochemistry.
Conversely, if you’re interested in this field. You will start to read about biochemistry. The consumption of information will make you more interested and thus you’ll consume even more about the field of biochemistry.
Similarly, even though you know that learning new skills is helpful. You even know about places where you can learn new skills (online, books, participating in an academy, etc.). If you’re not interested in learning new skills, you will remain at your current level of intelligence.
A question arises from the above: What motivates what we want?
Based on my observations, it circles back to what we consume.
But there is a little twist.
Consider this example:
If there are two different ways to change a tire – an easy way and a hard way. And if I’m only familiar with the hard one, for me, the hard one is the only reality. Thus, I don’t perceive it as hard. I’ll think of it as something usual – a way to change my tires. Yes, tedious. But necessary if I need to change them. I don’t know about any alternative methods, and my miserable unawareness makes me want to swear every time I have to perform this activity.
If I’m in the tire changing business. If this is something I regularly do, I will eventually find the easy way of changing tires because I will consume information related to changing tiers all the time – plus probably be surrounded by people who change tiers as well. My consumption habit and the surrounding people will help me unravel the other way. It’s only a matter of time.
But what if I’m just a regular person? A person who only changes tires once per year?
In this case, I won’t consume information about this subject. Therefore, there won’t be an opportunity for me to find about the other method. This is a matter of choice. I choose not to consume information related to changing tires.
Obviously, if someone shows me the other approach and I consume it, I will be forever thankful. But if this never happens, how can I find the other method on my own?
A desire to change!
Amidst my gloomy feelings, I must summon a desire to change. Even though I don’t know that an alternative way of changing tires exists. I will only make a change if I reach a point where I state something like: “Enough! There must be another way. If there isn’t, I will invent one!”
This is what I need.
This is what a lot of people need.
Something has to happen in our lives to make us actively search for alternative ways on how we can better change our “tires”.
Only a Desire For Change Will Help You Change What You Consume
Since my son never read books on my phone nor he used the music app, this doesn’t mean that he won’t like them. It means that he is still not ready to like them.
Analogically, if you’re not satisfied with something currently happening in your life, consuming different information rarely helps. Not because the available videos about learning programming, design, writing, or whatever are not interesting. You will quickly dismiss them because you still don’t want to learn about these fields. You are not interested.
If you want to change something in your life you first need a want to change. To be ready to change.
Normally, we choose ignorance.
For instance, a lot of people know that social media can also be used to sell things. To grow an audience. To leverage a brand. To make a living.
Statistically speaking, though, the majority of people using this tool are there simply to have fun and fill up their spare time. They strategically avoid learning how social media can be used to their advantage.2
Also, a lot of people know that there is a lot of money circulating in the tech sector. If you teach yourself how to code, you can easily find a decent job and never worry about money.3
I’m not saying that it’s going to be easy. But it’s a proven path that will lead to a good future income.
So why are people still spending hours a day simply scrolling social media pages?
We have the power to change. There are courses all over the internet world, but we choose not to consume them. Why is that?
The answer is depressingly obvious: We still don’t want to change.
We’re either not ready or not interested in making something different.
Even worse… we are unaware of unawareness.
As I just noted, my phone is full of books that represent the collective knowledge of our civilization and I also know how to use my phone to read these books.
But am I only using my phone for productive activities?
Of course not.
Like any other mortal, I too fall into the rabbit hole of funny but blunt memes and scroll through filtered pictures like the rest of the world. What I can say, we’re equally flawed in this regard.
So what’s your point?
I’m aware of this flaw.
I’m perfectly aware that I can use my phone for good things as well as for “bad” things. Not morally bad. But bad in terms of productivity.
However, I also know that you can’t operate a machine without oiling it.
You can’t expect to work 24/7 in a week.
We all need to rest. Have fun. Occasionally joke around even if this involves sending each other funny memes.
But don’t get distracted by this slight deviation.
After you’re done joking around, you need to return to your preferred labor.
I’m using the word preferred because, at some point in your life, you will reach a fork in the road.
Route one is fun and easy. You just sit on your comfortable sofa and consume the information created and shared in the online universe. When you need money. You take money from the bank. When you feel bored – actually, even before you feel bored – you jump on the meme-sharing train. Eventually, this route leads to all sorts of complications. As the saying goes, fun now leads to misery later.
Route two in contrast is utterly boring and repetitive. You work hard. Train hard. It’s like you never go out of the gym and/or the library. You don’t have much to share with the online world because your life is depressingly predictable – get up, work, go to bed. Yet again, the incline eventually leads to a better place. A place where the labor of your work finally pays of.
You Choose What To Consume Which Shapes Who You Become
What you consume you become but it all starts with your choice.
Changing what you consume is simple. You just click on the next video. But to sort through the mess in order to find something actually informative and helpful, you need a desire for change.
This can only come from within.
However, if this is not what you want to hear. If you’re not convinced that reading is important, you will quickly bounce and find something else to consume that’s more related to your desired way of living.
Read gossip stories about celebrities or about the latest fashion trends and these things will shape your reality.
Choose to read more about humble humans who are trying to change the world for the better and this is what you’ll strive for.
The information you digest and the experiences you experience shape who you are. All of these things create a strange mix of ingredients inside your cup:
But this is a product of the following:
What you choose to consume.
If you’re not happy with something in your life. Then you’re not consuming the right information.
Fortunately, you have full control over what you consume. You just need to want to change.
Once this want is present in your system, you simply need to find the right fountain to drink from.
Some Closing Thoughts
At the current moment, I’m the curator of what my son consumes.
We read books. We watch movies. We draw. We have fun together.
Normally, these things will change with age.
Eventually, I will teach him the lessons I’ve learned from all the books I’ve read.
Above all, though. I want to teach him how to approach consumption.
Teach him not to be satisfied only with what’s available in front of him.
Rather, explain that it’s much more valuable to possess a dose of unsettledness. A want to refine your current life and get continuously better. Because a desire to change is the only thing that will ignite change.
Do yourself a favor:
Join The Study Newsletter: A laid back newsletter about very serious ideas from even more serious books – and not only. Great for lifelong learners, creators, & wanderers alike.
- Tabula rasa is the theory that individuals are born without built-in mental content, and therefore all knowledge comes from experience or perception.
- There are a ton of articles about this. For instance, in this right here, the statistics show that 35% of users use social media to find funny or entertaining content.
- This personal article is a great introduction to how learning to code will help you: Learn to code, get rich and solve all your problems.