I’m fascinated by the sheer volume of information on the Web.
Many of us are at least partly familiar with the “Wikipedia effect” (captured succinctly below by xkcd’s Randall Munroe). You start off on one, well-intentioned search, and minutes (or is it hours? or is it days?) later you’ve found yourself reading up on something completely unrelated. It’s hard to say what causes such scattered thinking: part of it is interest, certainly, but there’s more to it than that.
There seems to be something intrinsic about the nature of Web-based information that allows for such a freeform approach to learning new things. Decades ago, when television allowed us to flip channels and potentially explore new (and unrelated) things, we remained hooked in to the whims of the channel operators. We might discover something new on the cooking channel, but it was dictated largely by whatever the cooking channel happened to have on. For those of us who grew up without cable– wow!– that cooking channel might not even exist.
Now, of course, things are radically different from the various forms of entertainment and knowledge accessibility our parents and grandparents enjoyed. Virtually all information online is put on equal footing (though it might be filtered and condensed by blogs and Google) and there are no barriers to discovering content that might previously have been hidden for nationalist, cultural, lawful or ideological reasons. This is an open ocean, and we rely far more on others to direct our attention.
Ever since I decided to make 2009 my best year ever I’ve known that I need a simple, consistent system to stay organized and a set of “safety nets” to keep things that way. Here, briefly, is my methodology:
I was a big fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology, which I discovered about four years ago in high school. There’s more “productivity porn” on the Web these days than anyone knows what to do with, so if you’re looking to jump in to Allen’s system it’s worth having a knowledgeable guide. That link should help you out!
But there are a fair amount of problems with GTD, not the least of which being how narrow its focus is. It requires a LOT of thought and attention every day in order to function the way it’s designed to, and it won’t give you a whole lot of feedback on how much real progress you’re making (everything becomes splintered into bilions and billions of tiny tasks). It’s always much easier (and tempting) to let things slide, and that’s never a good idea.
Physics professor David McKay has been trying to find the best sustainable energy source to power England. Unlike the vast majority of sustainability advocates, however, he brings some pretty cold logic to the table:
If we covered the windiest 10 per cent [of the UK] with windmills, we might be able to generate half of the energy used by driving a car 50 km [31 miles] per day each. Britain’s onshore wind energy resource may be “huge,” but it’s not as huge as our huge consumption. I should emphasize how audacious an assumption I’m making. [...] The windmills required [...] are fifty times the entire wind hardware of Denmark; seven times all the windfarms of Germany; and double the entire fleet of all wind turbines in the world.
Kay moves on to dismantle (or is it dismember?) various alternative energy models, including solar power (which requires obscene amounts of space, especially in a place as sunless as England) and biofuel, which is scarcely better.
The most efficient plants … deliver an average power of 0.5W/m2. Let’s cover 75 per cent of the country with quality green stuff. That’s 3000m2 per person devoted to bio-energy. This is the same as the British land area currently devoted to agriculture. So the maximum energy available, ignoring all the additional costs of growing, harvesting, and processing the greenery, is … 36 kWh/d per person.One interesting suggestion involves using land in North Africa for solar power and routing the current over the sea, counteracting the limited space available for solar panels in Europe. This still doesn’t deliver a whole lot of energy, but it’s feasible.
Wow. That’s not very much, considering the outrageously generous assumptions we just made [in order] to get a big number.
Part of my respect for Dr. Kay comes from his sheer level of thinking. All of his calculations are based on the assumption that everything is used to its fullest potential– making the results even more scary. In considering hydroelectric power, Kay envisions “millions” of water pumps moving water uphill, poised to create waterfalls-on-demand should the hydro systems fail. Kay’s contribution to the clean-energy discussion is bound to generate some exceptional new ideas–and, perhaps, some much-needed perspective.Kay’s book, Without the Hot Air, is freely downloadable (still in progress, he claims) here. Well worth a read.
Over at ArkiBlog is an intriguing collection of Canadian designer Bruce Mau’s thoughts on creativity and growth. Written in 1998, Mau calls this document the “incomplete manifesto”. Some of his ideas are particularly astute (numbers 1, 6, 18, and especially 29 and 42). What do you think?
1. Allow events to change you. You have to be willing to grow. Growth is different from something that happens to you. You produce it. You live it. The prerequisites for growth: the openness to experience events and the willingness to be changed by them.
2. Forget about good. Good is a known quantity. Good is what we all agree on. Growth is not necessarily good. Growth is an exploration of unlit recesses that may or may not yield to our research. As long as you stick to good you’ll never have real growth.
3. Process is more important than outcome. When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.