Tuesday, January 06, 2004

While being relatively unproductive today, waiting to play squash with my dad and his friend, I wrote this:

On Information Gluttony

A predicament that I've been enduring for the past several years is that where I sit in front of a computer till the wee hours of the morning almost every day consuming as much information as I can. One would think that such an activity renders one knowledgeable and wise, but I say that the possibility that the inverse could occur is also likely. I liken this activity to a kind of addiction, like that which plagues workaholics - it is not necesserily, and usually far from being productive. Best described as "wanking", the information gathering isn't really useful for anything except in casual conversation, where you are able to say with confidence: "yeah, I it on slashdot this morning". NOTE: Does my intro have an outline or a point to it? Maybe if I classify this as a ramble, I won't feel as guilty calling it an essay. Hey, here's an idea: Make a "director's cut" version that features these notes. Brilliant - more quality content, for no extra toil. While appearing to be harmless, this addiction to online information gathering can have grave effects, depending on how severe the case is. Personally, when I look back on the past 8 years or so, the only activity that I can remember without concentrating is the overbearing amount of time I spent researching interesting things like Tesla Coils, Actionscript EKG implementations, and browsing through eyecandy at 3d sites. (Time spent on the typical geek's seemingly most widely widespread time sink - online porn is another catagory altogether that deserves an article by itself.) The time that I've spent chatting sometimes mindlessly on various instant messaging means certainly deserves mention as well. I can remember days where I would wake up at around noon, browse till my stomach hurt (usually at around 2:00pm), return to the machine, eat supper when called, and then go to sleep when the birds woke up (at which point it got so ridiculous that even I thought I should go to sleep). Linux, in all its majesty and glory, didn't help either - given that my eternally broken machine could always use a tweak of some kind, and that most documentation is so scattered and hard to find, it fed my passion for information gathering like never before. It was like digging for buried treasure. Except the treasure wasn't actually so precious, because it was usually for something really specific and not very memorable. Ergo, it probably will not help me in the future. Even the searching skills aren't really something to be proud of; all I did was give Google something to munch on, and then felt through its excretions. NOTE: Wow, that's gross. Well done. So after years of doing the above, I don't really feel like a better person for it. I'd rather have actually studied during high school and cegep, or created something. (NOTE: I think I'm getting to a point here. Whoa there little doggie.) I think something that I've missed out on for all this time is the fact that I've never actually done anything with all this demi-useless knowledge. The feeling I get is a lot like what I experienced during the writing of the most time-intensive piece of writing that has flowed out of me: my extended essay (which I think I've lost - rats) on Copyright, Copyleft and bits of other Intellectual Property stuff. I remember having spent so much time absorbing information on the broad expanse of the subject that I just didn't know what to write anymore. It was like I had eaten so much that there wasn't enough time or space to digest it, and all that I could do was regurgitate what I had been exposed to. It was messed up, I tells ya. I felt like I had an entire hardware store at my disposal, and was being told to make something like a bird bath. Now, bird baths come in lots of different shapes and sizes, and note that you can build one out of basically anything. So how do you cope with an "empty canvas", so to speak? The first two thoughts that emerge out of the bog that I'm calling my mind right now are: "Burn your bridges" (advice given to me and other young authors by some demi-famous author at Paragraph (McGill) Bookstore during a bookreading that I went to with my Sec. 5 English class - Mr. Hoefle, where are you?) I think what was going on with this guy was that he wanted to write, but because he was so busy with everything else in his life, he decided to quit his job and sever other connections, leaving him in a situation where he basically had to succeed, or become really really screwed in a variety of ways. While forcing yourself into a place where it's "do or die" time is probably useful at times, it sounds too much like what drives procrastination. And procrastination doesn't sound like a good thing. "When your friends call, there is no tomorrow" is what I read on the inside of a chocolate wrapper the other day, and it's stuck with me since. If you think about it, and you consider your body and mind friends, then one should really just get up and do whatever needs to be done. Besides, true wisdom always comes in the form of a chocolate wrapper. "Just scribble something" (what I remember as what Mr. Rembrandt told his brother in a letter) Rembrandt said something along the lines that an empty canvas is one of the scariest things an artist can face. Because it has so much potential, your mind quickly becomes preoccupied with the magical wonderings of what it could become, and while doing so, prevents you from doing anything productive. So Rembrandt's advice was to just mark up the canvas a bit, and then build from there. I think this is a pretty good idea, because editing and being a critic is much easier than being a creator, you just have to work on what someone else has already done. And if that "someone else" is you, then you probably won't feel so bad when your work completely changes direction. At this point you should be noticing that this article has little in the way of structure. Here's a recap:
  • Information gathering is good. Being a librarian sounds like a non-stop party in my head.
  • Gathering without a point can be wasteful.
  • "Over-gathering" exists. Don't bite off more than you can chew, so plan accordingly so that you're able to really understand what the author is saying. Remember that there's a point being made in every sentence, so unless you "really" understand what every sentence means, you're missing out on something that might be crucial.
  • Steve Martin is brilliant. Also, I like the word "lugubrious".
  • When you're writing, sculpting or drawing something, it's good to have a plan. But it's usually nice to just start something a little, and plan based on what you've started out with. Note that this isn't always the case, because while constraint is a useful creative tool (as deemed by the lead of the White Stripes in one of those George Strombolopolopolopolous interviews at Much Music), it can also uhh... choke you. And that's bad. (I know there's sick puppies out there going "but sometimes...", and look, I've just acknowledged you, so there's no need to mention it to me now. Man...you people are screwed up.)
In conclusion, I suggest that more people quit wanking, and actually throw down something. As my dad's friend (nicknamed "the Toad") put it succintly, "Don't masturbate - cultivate".

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