Content Overload: Making the Excess of Available Knowledge Work for You

We live in an age of content overload. There’s so much to do. Keeping up with ever changing industries and technological tools is a continual challenge; not to mention all the resources for entertainment and learning outside of your professional field.

Currently, I have:

  • Close to 50 blogs bookmarked
  • Hundreds of movies in my Netflix queue
  • A long list of books in my Amazon wish list (as well as those on my bookshelf I haven’t gotten to yet)
  • A sizeable list of tv shows I hope to view in their entirety in the near future
  • Hundreds of podcasts downloaded I haven’t yet listened to
    …and, of course,
  • A to do list of a variety professional intentions that’s always growing even as I work my way through it
  • I bet you could create a similar list to this.I’m fully cognizant of the privileged position I’m in historically to be able to complain of having just too much quality content at my fingertips. Even so, it does feel like a problem at times. There are so many distractions and technology is developing creative new ways to distract us further all the time.

 

On the other hand, technology is also creating tools to help us organize and prioritize our various lists and tasks. I wrote recently about my feelings on movie queues and wish lists, but there are also tools readily available for managing a to do list; RSS feeds to help us scan blog headlines and thus prioritize which to read fully; and, personalized ratings systems to help us weed out entertainment that’s likely not worth our time.

There’s also the wisdom of just accepting that we’re simply not going to get to all of it. That nagging to do list is going to continue to keep me from many of those movies, books and tv shows and that’s ok. I don’t seek out great stories so I can check them off a list when I complete them, I do it so I can enjoy them in the moment. My life really won’t be the poorer if I forgo that blog post about a stranger’s trip to Argentina in order to read one that teaches me something new about link building.

We’re all lucky because we get to be choosy. The content overload that occasionally feels like a curse, always reminding us of what we haven’t done yet, is really one of the great privileges of our age. Enjoy it.

 

On Reading and Writing

I’ve always been a big reader. Writing came pretty naturally to me and I realized early on that the quality of my writing had a lot to do with the amount I read. The best way to develop a firm grasp of language and learn to communicate effectively in your writing is to spend a lot of time immersed in how great writers do it.

This always seemed like a fairly obvious truth to me: to be a good writer, you should first be a good reader. It was thus a surprise to encounter this Salon article that posits that there’s a new generation of aspiring writers with no interest in reading.

The evidence of this as a trend is largely anecdotal, so I’m not sure just how seriously to take it. That said, it’s difficult for me to imagine how someone would even come to the idea of wanting to make writing a focus of life without first cultivating the love of language, storytelling and knowledge that to me seem so intertwined with reading.

I often think of the history of literature as one long conversation. Different writers over time can borrow ideas and style techniques from one another to create something new. Shakespeare took stories from history and many of the great writers that came before him. Jorge Luis Borges, my personal favorite, often wrote of his preference for reading over writing and both his fiction and non-fiction essays are littered with ideas and references to other writers. Dante made this idea of writing as a continuing conversation over generations explicit with his use of Virgil in The Divine Comedy. The two even meet with several other poets in their time in Purgatory and discuss various issues related to poetry and religion*.

The written word allows us the great privilege of maintaining our knowledge of the ideas and stories of the brilliant men and women who came before us. If a writer rejects learning from the writers of our past, he or she lose the opportunity to be a part of the great conversation. So much of what’s been new and progressive throughout human history has come about due to our ability to build off of the ideas that came before. A refusal to embrace that means you’re likely to stay a few steps behind those that do.

*I might be the only person to read The Divine Comedy and prefer Purgatory to Inferno, specifically because I love the idea of Dante using it as an artistic outlet for having an imagined chat with his favorite writers.