Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Question of Relevancy

In my post "Too Much Information..." Anonymous wrote:

I think your question is best addressed by reflecting on what is the best use of your mental and emotional energy. What is the quality of the material you are hectically keeping abreast of? How challenging is it? How gratifying? How much does it demand of you and how much do you contribute to it? If the answers to these questions seem one-sided, then the media is getting the best of you.

He or she is probably right. It's easy to get distracted if you have "infovore" tendencies.

Since I am currently in the midst of serious tutorial production, I find myself skimming through my current string of blogs, newsletters, and podcasts - mostly to distract myself during stuck moments rather than "researching" solutions.

This is not nearly as unproductive as it sounds.

While I was writing my Master's Thesis - before widespread e-mail, widely digitized source materials, and Google Search - our professors encouraged us to put all of our notes on 3x5 index cards. Citation information at the top of the card, the relevant quote in the body. When you were ready to write, you would reorganize the cards into the appropriate order and write your paper based on the cards. The thinking behind this technique is that the paper would practically write itself once you have organized the cards.

Invariably, as I was writing, I would remember a citation didn't seem relevant enough for the effort of putting it on a card. I would then waste a day in the library among the stacks scrambling to find the source. Half of the time, the source was only loosely related to the topic at hand.

I firmly believe that knowledge advances within the gaps between fields. Seemingly "irrelevant" sources contain kernels of ideas that can lead to solutions. This is why I read blogs on multiple, unrelated topics and play with tools that I don't need right now. I may find a use for it later.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wickham says:

“I firmly believe that knowledge advances within the gaps between fields. Seemingly "irrelevant" sources contain kernels of ideas that can lead to solutions.”

And has said,

“Funny how ideas outpace the time it takes to turn the ideas into reality.”

Here is the trouble. What is the goal? How much of the goal originates from yourself, how much is a synthesis of the ideas of others?

To chose a project means to limit your horizons, and to call upon yourself as well as what you have learned. The trouble with endlss study is that it limits you within the best efforts of your models – your subjects of study. But what are you then?

Granted, good work cannot be born in a vacuum. Conversely, good work cannot be the product of pure synthesis. Most academics will rely too heavily upon the cannon; most laymen web bloggers will rely upon their fat-headed intuition. Oddly, both would do well to adopt some of the other’s technique. I grow tired of hopelessly uncreative academics forever sighting sources while their work remains mediocre and uninspiring. Of course, divisive bloggers, making war on enemies they have themselves created are equally boring.

Study can be a crutch. The web can be an easy diversion from the fierce challenge of creativity. The question isn’t: Should you seek to make connections between seemingly irrelevant details. But instead: When is the last time you lit-up the world by connecting two unconnected ideas? When is the last time you knew you had added something significant to the electronic info-flotsam of the internet?

My guess is that you haven’t spearheaded too many innovations. That’s okay, I’m hardly qualified to criticize as I am an idiot. But I know enough to realize when I’m working and when I’m leisurely reading, or easily following a lark to a place any coffee shop twit can visit.