what is information for?

there is too much information out there, far too much than we need on a day to day basis. i used to want to be the smartest person alive, but i realized that this didn’t make sense. even if i knew everything, would i use that information to get through my day? maybe, maybe not. more likely not.

joi ito presents the idea of pulling informational resources as you need them rather than stocking up and saving them. this makes sense – i don’t need to memorize the directions to a new restaurant, i can pull up that information on my phone. i don’t have to remember all my friends’ phone numbers, i get them as i need them.

i like to think of information, especially the information in books, in the same way i think about food: i eat enough of it to get me from one place to another. not only does this minimize the amount of reading and research i have to do, it also narrows its scope in a good way: “what do i need to learn today to get me to the next step of my grand plan?” Each informational “meal” provides us with cognitive energy to figure out the problems in front of us, and eventually we just have it all stored in our bones through repeated use and practice.

a little bit of perspective

every day, we have the power to choose how we look at things. our perspective has the strongest influence on how we make decisions. so, it makes sense that we should shake up our perspective every once in a while to look at our problems from a new angle.

i like doing a weekly “zoom out”. this means that i take a step back, and consider my plans in terms of a ten-year strategy. a zoom out could also mean imagining where my plan fits into the global economy. it could also mean seeing how i fit into the general schematics of a city.

changing your perspective could also mean zooming in. you’re smart, you can probably find a number of creative ways to alter your worldview. the point is, if you feel stuck, it can help to change your perspective. if you don’t know how to do this, talk to a friend, pick up a book, or listen to a podcast. being open to the thoughts of someone else is by definition taking a different point of view. this, oftentimes, is all the push you need to realize what you’ve been missing.

finding your professors

we are very lucky that we have the opportunity to follow very smart people on twitter. we can follow journalists, entrepreneurs, artists, experts, amateurs, you name it. sometimes it feels like i am creating my own curriculum when i am curating my twitter and instagram feeds.

this leads me to my ongoing obsession with joi ito, the current director of the mit media lab who shares his conversations with smart friends via his podcast “joi ito’s conversations”. listening to these conversations makes me feel like i am strolling through the mit campus and having lunch with people doing cutting edge work. it is invaluable.

previously, i would have to get accepted to mit to have this kind of experience, so even have a glimpse of what was considered cutting edge. but these podcasts bring me so close to the frontier in a way that the new york times never could. primary sources, though they are sometimes difficult to fully understand, contain some of the realest information that is “crunchy”, or contain substance that usable.

since joi ito’s thoughts are so ready available, i latch onto them with dear life because it is the one place on the internet where i feel i am getting honest and relevant information. further, each of the people he talks to opens up another door for me to figure out what is possible, and what the smartest people in the room are working on.

who are your professors and mentors, and what gifts are they sharing for free online?