Shirky confirms Shenk

Clay Shirky, in a recent talk at Web 2.0 Expo New York, challenged us to stop talking about information overload as an excuse, recognize it as a fact (one that’s existed for a long time and will not diminish in the future), and to work on building better filters.

Watch Clay Shirky on information overload versus filter failure:

Titles like the Boing Boing one are kinda unfortunate because they frame Shirky’s view to be one that would be in opposition to lets say, David Shenk’s from his book “Data Smog”.

Far from it.

David Shenk attempted to identify the information landscape we are living in now way back in 1997. In a 2007 piece in Slate he took a critical look back.

As with any look forward, the book wildly missed the mark with some of its more grim predictions, but in many ways still has much to offer and think about.

In particular, towards the end of the book Shenk proposed a personal call to action for building better filters (learning to be our own for example) and to be better information producing citizens (being our own editors). Big foreshadowing of Shirky’s talk there.

Most reviews of the book focussed on Shenk’s definition of the problem and pooh-poohed his suggestions. So here we are, many years down the line, and most of the focus is *still* grousing about ‘information overload’.

Clay Shirky’s point is its high time to stop doing that and get busy building the tools, protocols, customs and businesses that will help us not only deal with it, but thrive from it.

John Nunemaker has no talent, I agree (and don’t either!)

Love this post by John Nunemaker and programming: “I Have No Talent”:

It is true. I have no talent. What I do have is a lot of practice. And I am not talking about occasionally dabbling in Ruby on the weekends. I am talking about the kind of practice where I beat code that isn’t working into submission (though often times the code wins).

Bruce Sterling – “Today’s bleeding-edge technology is tomorrow’s broken legacy system.”

I started to pull together some choice quotes from Bruce Sterling, answering questions about the “State of the World 2010” at the WELL, but realized I’d be quoting far too much. You are better off reading the whole thing yourself. Enjoy.

Okay, one quote! In this he is discussing network-culture:

It’s not that print’s a medium, and the web’s a medium, and you get to migrate between media. The Web is a metamedium that turns everything it grips into network-culture.

*So it’s easy to see that mags are in for it. What’s a little harder is looking at the hollow shell of your once-favorite antique shop and realizing that’s all about eBay. “Gee, I’m on the web all the time now… time for a stroll, it’s a sunny day… Gosh, my neighborhood’s full of spooky holes.” Gothic High-Tech.

Update: Wired: Katie Hafner The Epic Saga of The Well

Well this explains why ‘Top 10’ stories are so popular

Spiegel: SPIEGEL Interview with Umberto Eco: ‘We Like Lists Because We Don’t Want to Die’:

The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with: It was 2,063, at least according to Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. We also have completely practical lists — the shopping list, the will, the menu — that are also cultural achievements in their own right.

40 year old ongoing study into preschool still providing insight

American RadioWorks: Emily Hanford: Early Lessons: “doing well in school, and in life, is about more than a test score.”:

“Now you’re getting into something really deep,” says economist James Heckman. “How is it that motivation is affected? What causes motivation?”

Heckman is a Nobel laureate who teaches at the University of Chicago. Preschool was not among his interests until he came across the Perry Study several years ago. What caught his attention is the apparent paradox at its core: The people who went to preschool were not “smarter” than their peers, but they did better.

The assumption at the heart of a lot of economic theory is that measured intelligence is the key to everything. But with the Perry Preschool children, something else made the difference. It was not IQ. Heckman is now working with psychologists to try to understand how the preschool may have affected the development of what he calls “non-cognitive” skills, things like motivation, sociability and the ability to work with others.

These are critical skills that help people succeed at school, at work – and in life.

And as it turns out, the Perry preschool children did do better in life.

Thinking About Flow

If you make a living programming, you know how productive, how creative, how enjoyable this state is: you + the task at hand – any other thought in the world. Focus, flow, mindfulness only of the moment you are in.

Flow can be found in the most mundane moments (there are no mundane moments if you become aware of this): from playing a game of basketball, to playing your guitar, to a late night World of Warcraft session, to gazing at your wife, or laughing with your daughter.

Time slows when you are in flow. Anxiety about the future transforms into passion about the now. Thoughts about the past do not get a chance to play on your conscious mind.

Flow is an extreme form of the feedback I’d give my Mom, when she was falling into a bad state, and concentrating too much on mistakes made or horrors visited upon her in the past.

“All that matters is the here and now. You, right here, are safe and well. We are doing well. All of us are blessed. Don’t let what happened 20 years ago defeat you. It doesn’t matter. Besides – its kinda insulting to your current circumstances to think anything more of the past other than it helped you get to here. Now is all that matters.”

(I need to tell myself this more often!)

This doesn’t jibe so well with a lot of psychological talk about how people need to face their pasts to over come them. That’s true in many cases. In many cases we *do* need to deal with the demons in our hearts in order to achieve our potential. But Mom had already faced her past. In countless therapy sessions, with countless doctors. She had a condition. And her doctors had, at one time wrote her off as hopeless – doomed to a downward spiral of psychotic episodes.

Becoming mindful of her own thoughts was part of a larger set of solutions that helped her be very “with it” the last few years of her life before leaving us. She succeeded to the point of being aware of threatening ‘bad thoughts’ and seeking out help before cycling and requiring hospitalization. Before this, once you saw the signs, you knew it was a hospitalization that would be the result.

Its funny, when you think about it. Because while we find flow in a great many positive things, the state of flow is just as likely found in the neutral or even the negative.

We spend millions of dollars, our time and attention, following gurus of various ideologies, taking up crazy religious practices, pursuing sex and drugs, creation and destruction, creating drama upon ourselves and our fellow man – just to be in it.

Flow is so primal a force in our adult lives because its something we literally swam in 100% of the time as children.

Our schools and our parents barked it out of us as they taught us to ‘pay attention’ for the *next* moment. We shaked it out of our own hearts as we let ourselves become more and abiding to scheduling. Most of all, as we get older, time simply seems to speed up as we become aware of our looming mortality.

Psychology Today: Finding flow:

…A deprived childhood, abusive parents, poverty, and a host of other external reasons may make it difficult for a person to find joy in everyday life. On the other hand, there are so many examples of individuals who overcame such obstacles that the belief that the quality of life is determined from the outside is hardly tenable. How much stress we experience depends more on how well we control attention than on what happens to us. The effect of physical pain, a monetary loss, or a social snub depends on how much attention we pay to it. To deny, repress, or misinterpret such events is no solution either, because the information will keep smoldering in the recesses of the mind. It is better to look suffering straight in the eye, acknowledge and respect its presence, and then get busy as soon as possible focusing on things we choose to focus on.

To learn to control attention, any skill or discipline one can master on one’s own will serve: meditation and prayer, exercise, aerobics, martial arts. The important thing is to enjoy the activity for its own sake, and to know that what matters is not the result, but the control one is acquiring over one’s attention.

It is also important to develop the habit of doing whatever needs to be done with concentrated attention. Even the most routine tasks, like washing dishes, dressing, or mowing the lawn, become more rewarding if we approach them with the care it would take to make a work of art.

…Flow is a source of mental energy in that it focuses attention and motivates action. Like other forms of energy, it can be used for constructive or destructive purposes. Teenagers arrested for vandalism or robbery often have no other motivation than the excitement they experience stealing a car or breaking into a house. War veterans say that they never felt such intense flow as when they were behind a machine gun on the front lines. Thus, it is not enough to strive for enjoyable goals, but one must also choose goals that will reduce the sum total of entropy in the world.

Find your flow and you slow down time. Find your flow and time has no meaning. Find your flow and find your love.

These are things I am saying as much to myself as I am you.

Related Links:

Scratch: Lowering the floor, widening the walls, raising the ceiling

Read about the principals behind the design of Scratch in Communications of the ACM: Scratch: Programming for All: “Digital fluency” should mean designing, creating, and remixing, not just browsing, chatting, and interacting.:

It has become commonplace to refer to young people as “digital natives” due to their apparent fluency with digital technologies. Indeed, many young people are very comfortable sending text messages, playing online games, and browsing the Web. But does that really make them fluent with new technologies? Though they interact with digital media all the time, few are able to create their own games, animations, or simulations. It’s as if they can “read” but not “write.”

As we see it, digital fluency requires not just the ability to chat, browse, and interact but also the ability to design, create, and invent with new media, as BalaBethany did in her projects. To do so, you need to learn some type of programming. The ability to program provides important benefits. For example, it greatly expands the range of what you can create (and how you can express yourself) with the computer. It also expands the range of what you can learn. In particular, programming supports “computational thinking,” helping you learn important problem-solving and design strategies (such as modularization and iterative design) that carry over to nonprogramming domains. And since programming involves the creation of external representations of your problem-solving processes, programming provides you with opportunities to reflect on your own thinking, even to think about thinking itself.

Some personal growth pieces to read and re-read

Just some recent links that have connected with me as of late:

Derek Sivers: If you think you haven’t found your passion…:

If you keep thinking about something like putting on a huge conference or being a Hollywood screenwriter and you find the idea terrifies but intrigues you, it’s probably a worthy endeavor for you.

You grow by doing what excites you and what scares you.

t3rmin4t0r: A Simple Survival Guide for your Inner Child:

There are only two basic rules of survival for the individual:

  • Work the system
  • Fuck with the system

It doesn’t get any more contradictory than that.

Howard Weaver – with echos of “Data Smog”, by David Shenk – : Infobesity: the result of poor information nutrition

Chris Dixon: What carries you up will also bring you down

Pace and Kyeli Smith: The Freak Manifesto

Institute for Artificial Intelligence: Michael A. Covington: How to Write More Clearly, Think More Clearly, and Learn Complex Material More Easily

Michael Montoure: Hack Yourself:

Stop assigning blame. This is the first step. Stop assigning blame and leave the past behind you.

You know whose fault it is that your life isn’t perfect. Your boss. Your teachers. Your ex-lovers. The ones who hurt you, the ones who abused you, the ones who left you bleeding. Or even yourself. You know whose fault it is — you’ve been telling yourself your whole life. Knowing whose fault it is that your life sucks is an excellent way to absolve yourself of any reponsibility for taking your life into your own hands.

Forget about it. Let it go. The past isn’t real. “That was in another country, and besides, the wench is dead.” If we’re not talking about something that is real and present and in your life right now, then it doesn’t matter. Nothing can be done about it. If nothing can be done about it, then don’t spend your energy dwelling on it — you have other things to do.