Swallowing the Ocean – The Case for Information Overload

One of my favorite books as a kid was The Five Chinese Brothers. I loved the story of five identical siblings who escaped a wrongful conviction and death sentence through smarts and special skills. However, my favorite part and the bit forever burned in my memory was the first brother who could swallow the sea. The thought of uncovering hidden treasure, pirate skeletons, shipwrecks, exotic fish and the unknown, unseen bottom of the sea was irresistible to a curious kid.

Today I am just as curious if not more. I want new information, hidden knowledge, the practical and the ephemeral. Every day I want to swallow not just the sea, but the ocean. Scouring websites, twitter, email newsletters, rss feeds and countless other sources, I strip mine for the remarkable, the random and the wonderful. Deploying apps and search engines, I connect the infinite dot-to-dot of our world. My desktop, iPhone and iPad are gateways to the curated and serendipitous discovery of knowledge, both useful and useless.

Ten Steps to a Successful Brand Portfolio Strategy. Read it. Peter Saville’s inspiration for the cover art on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. Watched it. A new book about the Mars Attacks trading cards. Ordered it.

My meme driven life can be a daunting task. There is so much ocean and I can only devour so much. When I finally end my day and reluctanly put my phone on the bedside table for the last time, I recount what I learned and try to synthesize and make connections. Like the first brother I must release the ocean and start again the next day.

Last week I heard a terrific Creative Mornings lecture from designer Simon Collison who advised us all to clear away the distractions. Ignore the endless twitter stream, avoid email, turn off your devices and focus on the task at hand. Be productive. Design. Build. Make. If the information is important enough, it will find you.

I agree that we need to step away from distraction to focus and finish the job, but there is too much to learn, see and experience. Too many great ideas. Too much remarkable brilliance to fit into such a short day. I am on information overload and it’s a good thing. The hunting and gathering energizes and drives me forward. It’s what I do. Excuse me, but the tide is rising and I’ve got an ocean to swallow.

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