Internet Lite

Yeah, so I’ve been bad at blogging lately. Mostly this is because I haven’t been reading blogs. There’s a direct connection. Real life things don’t make me particularly want to blog, but reading blogs does. Of course once the momentum kicks in then maybe I’ll press on to blog about real-lifey stuff. But normally, if I’m not reading blogs, I’m not writing. This makes sense in a way since it’s only when I’m reading really interesting things that I have any interest in writing.

The problem is, I’m in one of those moods right now where even when I have free time, I don’t want to read blogs. It’s not because I’m bored with them (hell, I’m watching Letterman, and how engaging is that?). The real problem is that I’m not able to keep up with my interests, and that bugs me. It’s tempting to invoke Stephen Covey here and say that my sphere of interest has exceeded my sphere of influence, but truthfully there’s no time in my life when that has not been the case. As far as I’m concerned, having your interests exceed your abilities is kind of the definition of being an interesting person. But I spend a lot of time even one step beyond this condition such that my interest in things exceeds even my interest in them. What I mean is there are a lot of things that I would potentially like to know more about, but I have a frustrating inability to actually take that next step and pursue the interest.

The web provides a really useful example and metaphor for this in the form of links. Blogs are ostensibly lists of links with a little extra, often pithy, meta data on why you should click on them. But how often do you read a blog and not click the links? That’s where I’m at. I’d like to click the links. I’d like to read the books I’ve read reviews of. I’d like to follow every chain to its conclusion or at least some far-off exhaustion point, but there’s too much interesting first-source material for me to go even one level down on everything that catches my interest.

Linking was the aspect of the web that caught my attention and made me think, yeah, this is the shit. Back in the late nineties there were days when I would literally spend eight hours starting from some topic and just drilling down through the links, consuming a huge amount of material, and more often than not actually learning about something new. I’m not sure what happened since then, but that doesn’t happen any more. Maybe there’s more noise in the channel, maybe I’ve developed a more discerning palate, maybe my attention span is shorter, maybe I just can’t sit still for eight hours any more. For whatever reason, I almost never do the concentrated, focused drill down on a topic these days. I read blogs as digests, I use Google for research, usually looking only at top-level hit pages until I find what I need. Once in a while I’ll get sucked into a compelling story (though it’s often on a newspaper or magazine site, so there won’t be outbound links). Sometimes I’ll find a personality I like and read around in an author’s article archive. But what I don’t do is consciously consume linked articles with the intention of integrating them into my own internal semantic web. This leaves me feeling like I’ve absorbed less, learned less, not really gained anything from time spent using the Internet. I guess this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since most people assume it’s all a waste of time anyway. But I feel like I used to get something out of it.

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