Sunday, January 29, 2006

Shaving Contemplations

Some of my best contemplative times are when I'm walking, driving, and shaving. There's something about those autopilot activities that lend themselves to the Zen, and this morning's shave was no different. For some reason, my brain's neural net kicked up a memory of the R&D lab where I used to work and I recalled how the network administrator--a real bear of a woman who hated me and who frankly had no qualifications to do what she was doing--used to send threatening emails around the office every few months about how everyone needed to delete any older files in their folders on the server because it was running out of room. I naively asked, "Why not just install more disk capacity on the server?" The response: "Why, to save more junk?"

Then, in the middle of the shave, I realized to a fuller extent why that attitude ("Why save more junk?") was so wrong. It comes out of a constrained space paradigm that we all live in, where we have to be concerned about clutter because we can't find what we need or because we are running out of space. Confronted with the constrained space paradigm, we organize what we think is our important stuff and throw out the crap we think we don't need any more.

That paradigm doesn't work everywhere. It makes sense for our homes; George Carlin aside, we don't really buy bigger homes because we need more room for our stuff. Not most of us anyway. Getting rid of the junk is a better use of time, money and energy than buying a new house and moving. But in the digital aspects of our lives, any time and energy we would spend deciding what to keep and what to throw away is increasingly just a waste of time. Storage space is cheap and getting cheaper, while our time is and always has been precious. What we need isn't to set aside time to throw more stuff away. What we need are better filters to find what we want when we want it.

Take Google Desktop and Spotlight, for instance. These simple, free tools automatically index your computer's physical storage and find what you want quickly. I use Google Desktop daily; I rarely bother sorting emails any more, for instance. I still hold to the practice of storing my work in folders and subfolders with relevant titles, but I can see how even this practice might be getting passe.

With the existence of these and other such search tools, we need only to make sure we save our stuff and develop some solid search techniques to find what we want quickly. There are competitions to see who can find something on the web using the fewest number of searches, for instance. To "google" something has become a cultural shorthand for "type this search term into Google." The big dogs in the internet world are the people who type in a search term and get what they were looking for in the #1 page ranking.

But the real money vein of this contemplation is about how we can contribute to and benefit from the content explosion that is the digital cloud around us. Every day a multiplicity of new voices are being added to the conversation that is the internet, and some of it is going to be very valuable to be exposed to. The trick is developing filters that really work for each of us as individuals.

It's worth pointing out that we've always had filters. This is nothing new. Newspapers filter, governments filter, your church bulletin filters, the big networks filter, magazines filter, etcetera. You filter what you put on your own personal blog. Virtually everything we read and hear has been filtered by somebody else. What I'm emphasizing is that I've realized that when I create a blogroll or bookmarks, I'm creating a filter for myself. When I read others blogrolls or shared bookmarks, I'm virally adopting aspects of their filters into my own filters.

This is how I've come to have the digital company that I keep, and how I've come to make some key new friendships that I enjoy on a daily basis. You see, some dismiss blogs and podcasts because they think they are a waste of time and a waste of space. But I say, get it up there. Get it all up there. There's plenty of room. Add every voice to the conversation, and let's continually refine our filters so that we have relatively easy access to content that enriches our lives and so that we can connect with like-minded individuals--and be challenged by those we may not agree with.

UPDATE: Add this to your "you learn something new every day" archive: Folksonomy.


At 6:41 PM, Blogger Nicole said...

I say that sometimes my blog friends know me more fully than my in person friends, but that's probably a sad commentary on the conservative Christian community in which I live, as well as my own lack of uterus. ;)

At 9:58 AM, Blogger ninjanun said...

Is that your neck hair?

At 10:46 AM, Blogger Zeke said...

Nope, not mine. That's something I snagged on a GIS run.


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