Sunday, October 14, 2012

True, interesting but useless: Dealing with the horde of information

The Beginning of the curiosity:

格物 。 That is the first step of Confucius 8 step to peace in the world - which is also one of the reason why I am always so curious and reading. Next, I think was the literature teacher Miss Boey who advised us to read more and listen to BBC. It was then that I spent nearly every Saturday afternoon was spent reading the entire week Straits Times Forum.

书到用时方恨少 – this was perhaps the guiding principle in the past of why it is always better to know more than less.

Old Model of thinking into the new age of Internet:

It was this idea of always learning that lead to me to horde lots of bookmarks as well as explore many tools to keep track of things of read:
  • Before the age of Facebook and Twitter, I will use StumbleUpon to keep good websites that I have read and I wanted the world to read about such as Jared Diamond's interviews on the EDGE.
  • Definitely using Delicious was necessary to keep bookmarks accessible across various computers.
  • Diggo was used because it allowed annotations of webpages.
    • I wanted to feel that I have actually done work through all these annotations ( However, as Paul Graham said reading is not work),
    • Many services touted annotations on webpages that can be viewed by different users as a ideal feature that encouraged collaboration among internet users but that didn't really took off.

What was the problem with this information hoarding mindset?

The problem if let's say I was looking a software that can convert PDF to Word. I would actually forget that I may have bookmarked such a software before. Before I actually refer to my useful list of bookmarks, I actually just google – that means my bookmarks were as useful as how much I remember. Duh!

The other reason behind all the bookmarking and annotations was simply because of the wide range of reading interest – such as reading about Matt Daemon's water charity work, or carbon trading on a global scale. This is where the circle of concern vs centre of i­nfluence comes in, I may be interested in the global carbon trading developments but seriously there is nothing I can do about it at my current position.

The amount of time we spent on things of our concern instead of our circle of influence is amazing when we include:
  • Tools that throw us more information such as facebook and twitter
  • All the email subscriptions such as the good work done by The story of Stuff and Guinea worm by Carter Center
  • All the worthy authors that I subscribe to such as Gate's Notes and Thomas Friedman articles on New York Times.

In fact, there was even a period where I actually moved many of email subscriptions to google reader so that I will not feel obliged to read them in my email box but only when I feel like checking out my google reader at leisure.

The way forward – tools and mindset:

Here are the things I have done to have LESS information in my life:

  • Unsubscribe many podcasts since I have already built up the good habit of switching on BBC radio whenever I am doing laborious work at home.
  • I can't do it like Pico Iyer who doesn't have a facebook and twitter account, but now I made a point to move all the social media apps like flipboard, news app like BBC off the homescreen of my Ipad and mobile phone.
    • I have also been succeeding mostly in the good habit of arriving slightly early, hence while using that waiting time to fiddle with my phone – It will be to clear the emails as well as the reading list in Pocket and not get more new information from feedly/google reader!
    • What about staying relevant and updated to the current affairs? I used to watch the Chinese news every evening at 10pm. Again, with the internet, news comes at you, there is no need like what I did when I was young to reach out for the news – in those days, information was just limited to that few channel.
  • Now there are very little bookmarks on my browser – they are related to the projects that I am embarking on currently. It takes a discipline to focus.
    • I don't horde all the useful websites of various tools/softwares anymore. Now no information is too precious to be deleted, internet has allowed us to obtain information as and when we need - it is a vast difference from 书到用时方恨少.
  • The other bookmarking software that I still use for other bookmarks not immediately related to current projects (hopefully very few) is Diggo. I will use Diggo to bookmark only because it has a feature that features my Diggo bookmarks in typical Google Search, hence reflecting websites that I have bookmarked before when I am searching for information.
  • And in the first place to avoid gathering more bookmarks not related to current projects, as much as possible now too, I just use Clearly to only display the relevant text when I read webpages to avoid being distracted by links and go on a reading tour again.

Okay, I know most of the people out there don't have an issue with too many bookmarks in the first place.

For others who read too much things on the internet, most of the information is TRUE, INTERESTING but USELESS to you as long as you don't a use for it in the immediacy.

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