Information Crisis

A small note to say that one of the things I’ve been “working on” over the last couple of days is the usual information management nightmare. I came to the umpteenth re-realisation that an insane amount of information flows into my life, and that I clutch at it, stow it, and then forget it and don’t use it. I actually have tried to stem the tide lately, reducing the number of feeds I read in RSS (only about 40 items a day!) and so on, and yet I still have a backlog of 39 articles in Instapaper, a truly frightening number of unread academic papers weighing down my harddrive, and a million bookmarks unsorted and untamed. Does anyone know how to handle it all?

My standard strategy, for what it’s worth (and it’s worth next to nothing by the way) involves information management programs. I have a history of feeling like these kinds of programs ought to save me from myself. I’ve oscillated between Evernote and (my first love) DevonTHINK over the years. The general story is that I cram them with PDFs of academic papers and theses and clippings from articles on the web I think are important for some reason, and then I neverever look at them again. I’m an information hoarder, in other words.

A big part of the problem is that I did a PhD and during a PhD you have to have this obsessive attitude toward information – gathering it up in massive bales along with notes and remembering it all so you can write your dissertation. Back in my PhD days I actually used a custom database I made in FileMaker Pro and was, if I may say so, rather well adjusted about the whole thing. Since finishing my PhD, though, times have been odd in that I haven’t often needed a lot of information about, well, anything. When I wrote my book I wrote it largely “from the heart” in the sense that it was mostly subjective. When I taught my courses I hugely relied on “just in time” resource finding strategies. Scary, but effective and current. So although I continue to collect information, it’s not really for anything except to be information that I have. (In case of thermonuclear attack? In case I need something to read?)

My new idea (in no way original) is that information collection (which I still unashamedly like to do – I can’t imagine not collecting information) requires a stance toward the information. You need to be something in relation to the information in order to deal with it. So I’ve been trying to define roles I have (or might have soon) that would need to interact with the information I find myself collecting, and I tag and file the information in ways that I think that future version of myself would find helpful.

Still remains to be seen whether any of this will ever help me. It’s a sad and astonishing fact that I have almost literally never used either Evernote or DevonTHINK to actually find a piece of information or data about a particular theme or topic. That is correct, I have only put information in, I have never taken information out. Special.

I’m a special guy.

15 August 2012
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