A couple weeks ago, at RailsConf, I tweeted that I was skipping Joel Spolsky’s keynote and why.
Judging by the few responses I got, most people took this to be a joke. It’s not.
I try very hard to watch what I put into my head. To a greater or lesser degree of success. All kinds of research is out there that begins to explain what affect information has on our not-21st-century brains and there are many reasons to believe in a mental architecture that functions on the principle of shit-in/shit-out (SISO). (I say “shit” instead of “garbage,” because garbage often times has some redeeming value (depending on the type).)
And, secondly, research has shown that the majority of what Joel Spolsky writes is pretty embarrassing, and so is the software he produces. Based on what I know of the man, I didn’t have high hopes for his talk, and it sounds like I wasn’t far off the mark.
But it’s not just about some personal vendetta against Spolsky. Put simply, I already take in too much.
Case in point: I want to reference an author’s assertion about failure that I read recently.
It was probably in a book. That is, one of the five or so books I’ve read this past week.
Or, shit. Was it on a blog?
You can see my predicament. I know I read the thing. I remember what it said. I said “Aha!” and “that’s interesting” and “I’m not entirely sure I agree,” and I probably dog-eared it or used one of my marker stickers which I keep everywhere, but that doesn’t mean much.
My “tagging” behavior has the side effect of leaving the best of the books I read looking like technicolor porcupines from Flatland. It will just as likely take me 20 minutes to find that quote, if I ever do.
I put too much information into my head. I devour it like it’s… I can’t even think of an adequate food metaphor because I just don’t like eating that much. My tummy is a wild beast that only accepts my yoke when I treat it with the gentle respect it deserves. Never in my wildest dreams could I spend an entire 8-hour day eating without wishing like hell I could stop, or at least barf.
With information, however, I start to read just one blog or just for 15 minutes and come to, hours later, with a stiff neck and cotton mouth, wondering dazedly where the time went. And what’s worse, I know full well this is what will usually happen, but I do it again anyway.
Fact: I’m never happier than when I strictly limit my intake of information, especially from pointless, shallow, or actively horrible sources. But, like all diets, I forget about actually feeling better, and sometimes I waste an entire day reading utterly useless shit. But tomorrow’s a new day, right? I’ll start fresh tomorrow. Or maybe right now.
In the mean time, I am more irritable, more distractable, more physically uncomfortable (info binging for me is a physically static thing) and thus more mentally sluggish, and, to top it all off, vastly less productive.
Which brings me to my point.
Information doesn’t want to be free—that’s the pathetic fallacy in action. But it does seem to have a life of its own, reflected in the above words, because of our seeming obsession with it.
- Summon Monsters? Open The Door? Heal? Or Die?
- Never Hate. Only Destroy.
- Life Interrupted
- Is Google making us stupid?
- Google: Making Nick Carr Stupid, But It’s Made This Guy Smarter
- Intermittent variable reward
- Information overload
- Continuous partial attention
- Supernova 2005: Attention
 The author was arguing against the idea that we learn from our failures and others’ successes, and saying it was a totally backwards idea—claiming that, in fact, we learn from our successes and others’ failures. I am, as I said, skeptical, but it was thought-provoking.