skim sparingly

I feel like a student again. Something switched on in me over the last few months and I’ve hit a second wind in quarantine causing me to scour the internet with interesting tidbits of knowledge to acquire. Throughout my many years in school, there were very few times when it was encouraged to go beyond the assigned readings as teachers fought to have us merely read what they gave us. My last year of school I found myself gathering “unnecessary” books and scribbling outside of the lines until new shapes formed in my mind. This partially came from getting a degree in psychology while firmly planting a foot into the world of tech in my work. It became normal for me to switch gears and, as I soon discovered, find massive areas of overlap. This didn’t thrill my professors who suddenly faced a deluge of questions that weren’t always fully on topic for the class at hand.

While I’ve always dabbled in exploring pockets of information, it was always through the lens of, “What do I need to read right now?”. There was an urgency to the reading and, when there wasn’t, it took me weeks or months to get to certain books or long form articles. Add to this, my job working for a remote company requires loads of reading and writing typically with a priority on the “now”. In all areas of my life, I suddenly found myself rewarded for knowing that which was most applicable to whatever the task was in the moment. Of note, this didn’t always mean reading the most recent update. Sometimes it meant spending hours reading about how we got to a certain point in time.

Discarding information seems to be a strange byproduct of our on demand world. We grab new information for a moment, hold it up close, and hurl it away as if our hands must always be free to catch the next breaking story. If something doesn’t feel relevant to today, it’s easy to let it go back into the ether. It’s basic prioritization in our world of information overload! (Side note: I wonder if it’s somehow part of a broader coping mechanism to wrangle technology and what our shared coping mechanisms look like at scale). The problem is not in the act of discarding but in the act of deciding what to discard. Too often I find that I rob my future self of something I’m genuinely interested in purely for the sake of closing tabs, lessening stress, and assuming that what feels relevant to the present is most important. I recently realized how narrow this time dependent viewpoint is and how much I want to push back against.

My current strategy is simple: start wide from reputable sources including curated newsletters and open anything that sparks interest especially those pieces that baffle me (important to break your own echo chamber). Curating my entryways for information by seeking out those that think differently than me has proven to be key. What I can’t get to today is inherently okay barring any relevant news articles. There’s no turn around time for learning. Instead I invest in my future self by creating a trail of knowledge rather than obsessing over the usefulness. I relish in the joy of simply learning without tests, without assignments, without debate. I re-read books unconcerned with returning to “old information” and instead knowing that who I was when I read them is not the same person I am today. I read slowly and skim sparingly.

My minimalistic and intentionality focused tendencies don’t serve me well here as I regularly cull through every aspect of my life. In the same way I’ve loosened my grip on “response times” over the years, I am finding myself doing the same with knowledge seeking at large. While I may not read whatever it might be today, rather than discarding, I’m keeping it for later. I started an entirely separate browser window with tabs purely for collecting articles and to switch me out of my work mindset at the end of the day. Now, I order the book and add it to my collection. There is no rush and I look forward to delighting my future self. I can feel the excitement build as I create this trove of goodies to dig into and it’s a refreshing change from how I usually feel trying to keep up. Instead of pockets of mindless scrolling, I feel I have created the opposite and I only hope it lasts.

2 Comments

  1. Bryan Wagner

    I identify with this. “Sui Generis” would appear to be a state that everyone who is willing to challenge the existing paradigm will come to sooner or later. It comes with a lot challenges but I’m happy to read about how you are exploring. Good hunting my friend.

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