25. Information Integration and the Ability to Change Our Habits

I’m coming to believe more and more that our choices each and every day are affected greatly by the availability of information and our ability to process it. At least for me personally, the more specific information I have on issues that are important to me, the more likely I am to act on that information.

I was just reading an article about seafood and this one man’s attempt to start a technology revolution that would actually track where your seafood comes from. Seafood sourcing and labelling is infamously terrible. Estimates show that potentially 1/3 – 33% – of the seafood we eat is mislabeled. Much of the time, this is no accident. Business flows to where the money is. If people are paying for fish, then importers will provide it. These importers might not include with the fish information about where that fish comes from, what species of fish it actually is (there is a lot of fish forgery), or the conditions of the fishermen who caught the fish (human trafficking is leading to fishermen essentially enslaved on their ships is a substantial and growing problem).

Now, would you eat quite so much seafood if you knew about this? Would you eat quite so much seafood if you knew how the oceans are increasingly depleted of fish and how many high-demand species are getting driven towards extinction? Or that fisheries are killing sea turtles, dolphins, and other well-loved marine species simply because those animals get caught in their fishing nets and then are simply disposed of and labelled as bycatch? I haven’t been able to. I love seafood as much as the next person, but the more information I attain about the current sate of the oceans, the less seafood I consciously consume. I have now mostly avoided seafood altogether. I say mostly because I will still order a seafood plate if it seems to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do so. (See: ordering lobster ravioli in Malta during one of my two nights there.)

I think this same type of reasoning and information availability applies to just about any issue you can think of. At first, we aren’t aware of the effects we, as consumers, cause. We aren’t aware of the full range of implications of our choices. Then, maybe, at some point, we slowly start gathering information about that issue. If we choose to, we can then begin to assimilate that information into our stream of consciousness. This is the point where we can then begin to consciously analyze our decisions before we make them because we are finally aware that the true implications of our individual actions are far larger than we ever imagined they could be.

Of course, if we all thought this way about every issue of every moment of every day, it would be completely and fundamentally overwhelming. Instead, I think the trick is to incorporate small decisions over time. That conscious thinking about, say, not ordering fish starts getting built into neurological muscle memory. Give it enough thought and enough practice, and eventually you won’t even have to think about avoiding seafood, or whatever activity you are focused on. Eventually, you will consciously have to override what has become habit in your thinking if you want to go back to your old ways of thinking and doing.

Once that one conscious thing you have decided to focus on becomes habit, your brain and consciousness become open again to new sets of information and another opportunity for changing thinking habits. Give it enough time, and you can integrate all the information you choose to integrate into your life.

Yes, you have to to work at it. Yes, you are going to struggle at first. No matter if it’s adopting certain diets, walking or taking public transportation to work more often, buying less non-recyclable goods, or reading a little more on your given topic every day, it will become easier. I promise. Changing our habits with information little by little is not the easiest thing to do, but it will be worth it. If enough of us engage in this direct grappling with issues and topics near and dear to us, I believe this is how we can save the world.