May 2, 2006

Babbit's Revenge? (a snark)

Kathy Sierra and Merlin Mann write about the problems of keeping up -- not with the Joneses, but with your stack of reading.

There's an opportunity for all of us to help our users (or start a business around helping people reduce the info overload/pressure-to-keep-up stress most of us feel). In the meantime, take a deep breath and repeat after me, 'I will never keep up. Keeping up is a myth.' And if it makes you feel any better, add, 'John isn't keeping up either.'

Babbit's Revenge? (a snark)
This is interesting. I've written before about my own unmanageable reading stack.

"I have two more of these piles of books at home, and another pile at work. And there are lots of books I've been planning to read, wanting to read, that I've promised to read, that aren't even on the stack. I've got weeks and weeks of hypertexts, too. Some of these (like the Simon Schama) have been simmering for months. Others (Tournament of Shadows) joined the pile because of The Current Situation. It's a big, big pile. And it ought to be bigger.

How does anyone keep up with this? I know, I know: it's a sophomoric question. But it's a real problem for me, and I'm always falling farther behind. Triage seems out of the question; what now?

But is shrugging and saying "It's too hard" an answer? Between the newspapers and must-read Web sites (Josh Marshall, Juan Cole), I'm spending an hour a day on political and military issues over which I have negligible influence. Is that wise? But we're fighting a war which no one can really explain, and appear to be sliding toward presidential tyranny in which the rule of law only runs at the pleasure of the executive. Can we sit around and say, "that's not my department?" If we do, will we someday have to testify that "we didn't know"?

Why keep up?

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near

You do what you can, and it's never enough, and that's the way it should be. Being too comfortable in not knowing what you don't know is the defining trait of pointy-haired managers, politicians, princes and priests.

I think, today, that a broad, generous, and liberal understanding is a very difficult thing for which to reach, but that difficulty doesn't mean we should be comfortable in the embrace of not knowing. "Though we cannot make our sun stand still, yet we will make him run."