I subscribe to one daily newspaper, two weekly magazines, three monthly magazines and 42 RSS feeds. I receive about 100 non-spam emails per day on my personal account and 50-75 on my work account. I have more than 50 books on my bookcase at home waiting to be read.
I spend an inordinate amount of time reading, and yet I’m never done. I am always playing catch up.
Catch up is defined as “to learn belatedly; find out about something after it happened” or “to make a special effort to overcome a late start, a liability, or the advantage a competitor has.” The integral word here is late.
The Internet has created a culture in which all information is instantaneously accessible, causing many of us to believe that it must also be instantaneously absorbed. It’s an unfair expectation that I know many of us put on ourselves. But like the definition above says, it’s in the spirit of competition. When the information is accessible to everyone, we can’t help but feel the pressure to know everything immediately. In the age of BlackBerrys and iPhones, time no longer exists.
Previously, the printing process naturally added a significant period of time between an incident occurring and the information being disseminated. It wasn’t that long ago that the Sunday edition of the New York Times wasn’t available in California until Monday.
But today, with the popularity of live-blogging and live-tweeting, there is now mere seconds between occurrence and record. I constantly feel like I’m behind and, as a result, none of the reading that I do feels pleasurable. Instead it feels harried, desperate, necessary. I think to myself, If I don’t read this article then I won’t have the additional knowledge to pull from when the topic arises. I imagine myself in hypothetical situations with colleagues/friends/luminaries in which I won’t have the context to understand their argument or won’t be able to provide a counterpoint because I don’t have the necessary bits of information to access.
This is probably sounding a lot like Bit Literacy right now. Well, it should. I deeply believe in minimizing clutter, organizing information in a simple and easily accessible way, purging frequently, and giving yourself the space to create. New information comes in faster than we can get rid of the old, and the only way to overcome the overload is to cut down on what we allow to enter our universe.
But that is my biggest problem — letting go. I’m having a very difficult time accepting that I can’t digest everything I read and can’t get my eyes on every important piece of data that comes my way. And moreover, that I need to stop seeking out more sources of information and instead spend the time digging deeper into the ones I already have. Or to put it another way: I need to start getting smart about my information approach.
I grew up in New York City. I’m used to an impossibly high level of sensory input and I’ve gotten pretty good at putting on blinders and seeing what I want to see. In training myself to swim in a sea of limitless options, I have had to make tough personal choices about the places I want to go, the people I want to be surrounded by, the situations and environments I want to experience. Essentially, I had to define myself and seek out the experiences that would strengthen that definition.
I suppose I’m realizing now that I’m at a point in my career where I need to do something similar. If the web is like New York City, and there are endless possible paths to take and innumerable people to come into contact with, you have to decide on a destination before leaving the house, but leave plenty of time to wander should something perchance catch your eye. Or you have to be strategic about what information you need and what you really don’t. If I reduce my expectations of how much I am capable of taking in, I’ll probably end up learning more and have more fun doing it. You’ve gotta leave room for serendipity after all.
Now let me see what’s waiting for me on DVR…
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