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March 20, 2006

on unbridled enthusiasms

There are some days when the advent of technology is too much to bear and one feels like sinking into the darkened abyss of Luddite-dom, never to emerge to email another day.

This is not one of those days.

I am so continually blown away by how things have evolved and changed during my unwitting 2-year sabbatical from proper tech geekiness. Case in point: Wikipedia, as you all know, is a veritable font of information. It's not the existence of an online encyclopedia that boggles my mind but the collaborative effort behind it. I know that's the foundation of the wiki technology anyway, but after idly perusing some of the discussions and history behind some articles on Wikipedia, the seriousness with which so many attend to this entity is so thrilling as to be emotionally moving.

March 1, 2006


It seems we're all playing a bit of a racing game, or at least it feels like it to me, trying to stay on top of the newest and best by following RSS feeds, webpage after webpage, blog after blog, doing whatever we can to make sure we're hyperaware of the surroundings around us. I use the example of RSS specifically because in toying around with Bloglines, I find myself checking my feeds to see if there is any news, any snippet of news that I missed... it's okay to keep it for later, but god forbid I miss a news item! And I'm only at 28 feeds right now, so who knows what life would be like if I had twice as many feeds to follow. I told y'all I was new to this RSS junk, having only really gotten into it when I started messing with Bloglines. I hadn't found an aggregator I liked as much before, but now I'm rather hooked.

How do people do it? Do you set aside an hour each day devoted specifically to feed-following, and then another hour devoted specifically to email? How do you get any projects done? I read a fascinating article on this topic in the NYTimes a few months back, and was inspired to add a second monitor to my setup in my office specifically to house my email inbox and calendar. I feel -- perhaps mistakenly -- that it provides for more efficiency so that I'm not constantly alt-tabbing over to email to see who wrote next, but can instead just simply glance, or ignore if necessary.

But I also find myself sending emails to myself at home with reminders of things to do, or things not to forget, and then later often finding that I ignore the emails anyway, considering them slightly naggy of myself. No, I'm not schizophrenic. If I add a PDA to the mix to "help" with such little notes, I think it would only make things worse. I'm tempted to go back to the olden days of writing myself notes on an actual piece of paper and sticking it in my pocket, but I remember what I did with those too -- they get tossed on the counter along with the keys/change/Chapstick once you walk in the house anyway. I tried the PDA route back in grad school, and while it was helpful for keeping track of what readings I had to accomplish, it was also more cumbersome and time-consuming to type all those things in (never did get the hand of the graffiti-entry). Then the battery died and I lost everything anyway.

So I don't know what the solution is right now. Dual monitors help in the workplace... or are they just a crutch to enable us to try to multi-task even more? As an avowed and dedicated multi-tasker, this works well for me, but it might also be making my 'problem' worse. The more projects I have going on at one time, the more productive I feel, but if I get so bogged down in following feeds or checking email or learning technologies, I'll never finish any of the projects. The learning of new technologies in and of itself has been an issue for me (RSS being one, podcasting another), and only serves to heighten the sense of the spinning hamster wheel I find myself on, as I race to catch up with the rest of the world which somehow kept on spinning technologically while I was preoccupied only with Word for writing papers, SPSS for statistics, and ArcView for crime-mapping. How on earth did blogs enter the mainstream when I wasn't looking? Last time I checked, they were a mildly pesky phenomenon for the otherwise journalistically-inclined world. Now they're everywhere. It's utterly astounding how far the world has progressed in the last few years from a technological standpoint, and I am grateful in some way for having been incommunicado with that world for that timespan as I am better able to appreciate the difference, which would be otherwise transparent to the rest of the geeks.