High and Low Entropy
Physicist and Cosmologist, Sean Carroll, gave a TED Talk where he discussed the concept of Entropy. I know, you are already thinking, “what did I click on?” Just humor me. First, let me should define Entropy. Secondly, I let me explain why I find this law so interesting, as it relates to culture, politics, and everyday living. Lastly, I will expound on how I try to control Entropy in my own life. First, the definition, as detailed in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Definition of Entropy
- A measure of the unavailable energy in a closed thermodynamic system that is also usually considered to be a measure of the system’s disorder, that is a property of the system’s state, and that varies directly with any reversible change in heat in the system and inversely with the temperature of the system; broadly: the degree of disorder or uncertainty in a system.
- The degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity. A process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder.
- chaos, disorganization, randomness
Put simply, Entropy, is the constant state of movement from simple to complex within a system. That system can be almost anything. Think a small outpost called New Amsterdam to a massive metropolitan area called New York. Aside from the clinical definition above, below is an illustrative example of what Entropy is in the simplest of representations.
To be clear, all things exist in some state of Entropy, be it high or low. So, you could say, chaos, randomness, and disorganization reign everywhere. Moreover, as a system, organization, city, etc grows, it’s natural progress skews towards chaos, disorganization, and randomness. I look at a lot of aspects of life in this way. Which is why, the law of Entropy is so interesting to me. In fact, I would go so far as to say, that at least in the developed world, modern life operates at a very high level of Entropy.
From simple beginnings where there were a few national broadcasters and a handful of summer blockbusters. We have reached a state of peak culture. We are inundated with dozens and dozens of “must watch shows,” hundreds of channels of mindless content, and big budget movie sequels without end. We could possibly credit technology and an increased talent pool for making family TV hour and the occasional movie out grow into an explosion of iron butt binge watching weekends. In the end, we consume the content and until we reject it, this monster will continue to grow beyond anybody’s reasonable expectation to see everything. In fact, we have so much media now, I wonder if we can really say that there is even a National Canon of film, TV, music, and literature that we can all measure our experience against.
I think regardless of your political leanings, we could all agree that Politics is operating in a state of disorganization. I wrote another post about how Politics begins and ends with the people. You could say that the Community groups we form to manage our neighborhoods and school systems represent the simplest form of government and possibly a low state of Entropy. As you climb up the ladder the level of chaos and uncertainty increases as we pull in partisan issues, campaign schedules, fundraising and all of the political gamesmanship. Expand to the international landscape and the rules, back channel dealings, and quagmire can leave the solitary citizen feeling confused and unable to control the random forces up on high acting on their free will.
This is a hard example to expand upon. For most of recorded history we have had some diversity among cultures spread across the globe. I would argue though that with access and the growth of media, micro-cultures have risen up all over. Where once, someone may have been an outsider in their community, technology allows them to find other like minded spirits anywhere in the world and come together to celebrate their uniqueness en masse. There is a Meetup group for every interest and more and more there seems little to glue us together save for maybe National or Ethnic identity. Depending on when you were born, it can seem overwhelming to go from a time of general canonical national interest to where even the National pastime is a venue for airing out differences. There are some who want to roll the clock back to a simpler “Cultural” state, based on the chants you hear at some political rallies.
Dealing with Entropy
I am naturally an organized and somewhat OCD person. So, I am always inherently trying to work towards a low Entropy state at the same time that life wants to progress towards a high Entropy state. Besides the traditional organization techniques to keep things from spinning out of control, I have started to use the Minimalist principles and maxims along with the Rule of Three to keep life as close to a Low Entropy state as possible. So, below in the final section of this post, are a few areas of life and how I employ Minimalism and The Rule of Three to try to keep them from getting beyond some measure of control.
Material Possessions and Entropy
We live in a consumerist culture that with all the malls, web shopping sites, and mobile apps we can easily drive a person crazy trying to keep up. More likely we will drive people to financial ruin without some clear compass and principles on how to control consumerist urges and make well curated and conscious buying decisions. Instead we off plenty of storage facilities, IKEA, The Container Store, and similar companies to sell us the idea that we can keeping our daily lives in a state of Low Consumer Entropy. But, in the end, we are really just buying more stuff to try and tame all the stuff we already have and may have started to take over our lives already.
Personally, we have taken this challenge head on. We have literally created spreadsheets of budgets and planning of all purchases in every category. To buy only what we can afford and to make sure what we buy is sustainable, timeless and meaningful. We further simplified our finances by cutting down to two credit cards, one mortgage, and setting up almost everything to auto-pay. It’s really easy to navigate a credit report with only three accounts on it versus the 37+ like I know one friend has. When it comes to clothing & fashion I’ve reverted the chaotic ramble of clothes I had into a simple clothing capsule. That means I put a hard cap on the total number of articles in it, 120, including socks & underwear. I also applied a uniform approach to all my clothes which consists of less variety but more of the higher quality items that I love in one of two colors. I can literally pull a top and bottom with my eyes clothes and they are bound to match and feel great.
Digital Life and Entropy
Our digital lives are a cacophony of email, social media platforms and posts, along with noisy notifications without end. For every If you install the Moment App on your mobile devices and look at the results after a week, you would be shocked at the amount of time spent on social media and email apps. I thought I had control of my app usage but was pretty embarrassed by how much time I spent on my phone. It doesn’t help that “Fear of Missing Out (FOMO),” can drive young kids crazy and have them spending 60-80% of their waking hours on their screens. All of these digital distractions can keep us from our creative and meaningful pursuits. To that end, I decided to make some drastic changes on my end to reduce the chaos of technology jutting in from all sides.
I reduced my email accounts down to three. My work email of course, another personal account where most mail goes to, and another for junk mail. If an organization I join gives me an extra email account I don’t need, I use forwarding for any of these ancillary accounts. I also un-subscribed from every single email distribution list I was on. I figured, if I need them, I can add them back. I removed all social media apps from my devices except one. I kept Instagram because it was the only one I truly enjoyed without spending more than 30 minutes on a day. I also installed extensions on my web browser that limits the amount of time I can spend on social media everyday down to 30 minutes. Lastly, I disabled almost all notifications on all my devices except for phone calls and text messages. The only downside is that I forget where my phone is because I often don’t hear it anymore.