Bill McKibben has been a longstanding writer about the environment and sustainability. His first book, The End of Nature, was published in the late 80’s. That was followed by The Age of Missing Information, published in 1992.

Missing Information explores the differences in the quality of the experience of 24 hours spent watching television versus the same amount of time spent in nature. Although it was written nearly 20 years ago, the book still feels timely, full of wisdom and thoughtful provocation.

I recently did a quick reread of the book and was struck by McKibben’s insightfulness as well as his willingness to even-handedly compare these two settings. A day spent in nature and a day spent watching television both offer a steady stream of information. The nature of the information gleaned is radically different however, and McKibben works hard to get under the obvious observations to explore the richer subterreanean layers of subtlety and innuendo. After reading his book, I’m pretty convinced we are what we eat. What we hear. What we see. What we know.

Here’s a few excerpts from the book that I found compelling:

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The great push is always away from individual skill and engagement—a horse took all sorts of information and insight to handle, and a model T a little, and a Honda Accord virtually none.

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Regarding the accumulation of knowledge and believing that we know more than our grandparents: In truth, though, we usually learn a new way of doing things at the expense of the old way. In this case we’ve traded away most of our physical sense of the world and with it a whole category of information, of understanding.

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Instead of the inward-looking self consciousness bred by the solitary reading of printed matter, the electronic urge brings oral and tribal ear-culture to the literate west, and in turn the western technology brings the revolution to the whole world, sealing the entire family into a single global tribe.

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TV itself is without doubt the most single important development of the last 40 years, and it endlessly refers to itself, which adds to the strange sense you are pickling in its juice.

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