perry is a co-worker of mine. he’s in his twenties, and makes a living doing cafe maintenance. i asked him what he does for fun and he told me, “well, i’m building a boat.”
perry laughed. “you can pretty much learn anything on the internet these days. sure, if i was formally trained i could probably do a better job and make less mistakes. but you can learn a lot of the basics on youtube.”
next, i talked to nelson, a friend who likes to talk about philosophy. “i know a lot of philosophy isn’t immediately useful, but i like learning about it because it’s stimulating.” nelson picks up dense philosophy books from the bookstore, and uses youtube and google to further research terms and concepts that he wants to know more about.
lastly, my friend nat tells me that they are so impressed by how much their friends know. “it seems like everyone knows so much stuff about random subjects. i want to be one of those people, but i don’t know where to get started.”
more and more, when i ask friends how they got good at their hobbies or work, they’ll tell me “youtube” or “google”. this is super exciting to me, and also checks out with how i’ve been learning to program. i embark on a project, get stuck, then google my problem. i look at other people’s code, watch people on youtube, then try again. soon, i am better than i was before without having to set foot in a physical classroom.
the people i want to help are the people like nat – they know they can learn anything but need someone to help them figure out their interests. cultivating curiosity, building your own curriculum, these things don’t necessarily come naturally to folks who are used to sitting in a classroom and having a teacher tell them what they need to learn. i am lucky to know so many interest-driven learners, and i am currently inspired to lend a hand to those who want to become one.
my friend lito got me a game called “the witness”. it’s a series of puzzles that get increasingly more difficult. i find that i lose track of time when i’m playing this game, and usually i walk away when i am simply too frustrated to continue.
“that’s video games,” chey tells me.
lito pushed me to play “the witness” because it illustrated the concept of constructivism, which is a particular theory of how people learn. i am not an expert in constructivism, but it seems to explain the relationship between ideas and experience.
this is particularly interesting to lito because he works in education. for me, it makes me think about how i go about teaching myself new things, like programming. but in the meantime, i’m still just scratching my head over the latest puzzle in “the witness”.
i just read this article that my friend lito sent me. its thesis is that books and lectures aren’t very good at getting their message across. this is kind of true: books and lectures do nothing if they are not applied and used.
your brain remembers what it uses and forgets what it doesn’t. this is the basis for how a lot of things stay. you could study memory for a long time and discover its peculiarities, but basically if you want to learn something and remember it, you must have some sort of external pressure to actually use the information.
this is something i could talk at length about, but let’s talk about books for a moment briefly. every time i read something, i write about it or talk about it. i am in the habit of always using what i read so that it stays in my brain. for this reason, i am also self-guided to certain books and subjects that are immediately useful. this could be called interest.
from college onwards, i have learned that some of the best research comes from focused play. if you are following your intuition and interest, you are using the information you consume, and playing with it. in turn, you will remember it , and truly know and absorb what you read.
“fridays were the days i would set aside for me,” says cordero core in our most recent interview on the orbit. cordero set aside specific times when he wouldn’t do his assigned work, and instead focus on things that interested him. now at 31, he has a ton of stories, skills, and hobbies along with his engineering degree.
i am taking a leaf out of his book today and trying to spend time doing focused play. my peers are so good at working hard and not very good at resting or enjoying themselves, so in a sense i think doing the things you love is a bit rebellious and revolutionary, and will take you to places you may have never found otherwise.
i just watched this talk by programming speaker gary bernhardt and didn’t understand a lot of it. this makes sense, since i am not an expert in coding or programming, and this video is intended for “serious” programmers. gary is clearly charismatic and an engaging speaker, so i managed to sit through the video and get a little bit out of it.
growing up, i used to think that i had to understand everything immediately. in late high school, things got difficult, and i found myself floundering because i didn’t know how to study. then, in college, i learned that when i read a book, it’s a good thing if there are certain parts of the text that fly over my head. that’s why i’m in school.
with my professors, i learned to take note of the things that i didn’t understand but wanted to know more about, and to revisit those passages. this is study, and this is how we next level our understanding of anything in a focused way.
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.