Saturday, December 13, 2003

Insight overload

I'm tired of hearing about "information overload".

The claim is that we are being buried in an avalanche of information, unable to find the the nuggets of knowledge hidden in this mountain of data. The implication is that software should help us extract this knowledge from all the data dross.

The real problem is not too much bad information; it's too much good information. There are so many thoughtful insights available to me that my problem is regret at not absorbing all of it, not frustration at not finding "the good stuff". It's therefore more a subjective matter of cognitive capacity as it is a data mining problem that can be solved by software.

I also have an ego problem. Everybody I read seems to be scary smart, or insanely insightful, and I spend more energy fretting about my inadequacy than coming to terms with their insights. I know what I should be doing: standing on the shoulders of these giants, rather than scowling at their kneecaps. (A forest of their kneecaps...) Instead, I'm intimidated by all this wisdom; I resist reading the good stuff because it rubs my face in the fact that my contribution is so meagre.

This is just dumb. So here's my New Year's Resolution:

Set aside as much time to reflect as to read, and then just read as much as time allows. Don't try to read everything - don't even try to read the all the best things.

Don't read for speed. I can't read all of it anyway. If I aim for quantity I'll see lots of words go by, but nothing will sink in. I should pause at the end of reading something to see if I've remembered anything I read. If I can't, I will go back and read it again.

Enjoy great thinking for its own sake. Don't be envious. Treat it like great music, or great art, or great food. It's something that can make my life better. It's a gift - just accept it.

React, form an option. Feel free to disagree. Any response will help clarify what's relevant to me, and what isn't.

Reading is like walking through the mountains. You'd be overwhelmed if you try to take in every individual flower and tree along the path. That's a good thing to do from time to time, but one should also take in the shape of the landscape, and the different kinds of vegetation. Sure, I need to read and reply to certain mails. But there's also value in simply absorbing the rhythm and flow of the mail stream: what's hot, who's talkative, what's not being said.

I feel as if there's a plaque in front of my monitor that says


I need to replace that with the old IBM-issue plaque that says


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