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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Chewing on bits, bites, and full on meals

August 6, 2008

Some prefer to eat three times a day.  Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner.  It seems that lately people in my country seem to skip the first meal, generally eat the second meal on-the-run or too quickly, and eat the last meal of the day far too late in the day.

Then you have the health conscious individuals that focus on eating smaller meals much more often.  Proven to keep your metabolism raging throughout the day. Coupled with a good routine of exercise this is the sure-fire way to keep healthy and energetic.

But this post has nothing to do with food.  It has to do with reading habits.

I love words. Reading them, writing them, seeing them crafted in ways that I can only aspire to.  Because of this I read a lot.  But I don’t read books (as often as I’d like).  I read blogs, link lists, and tidbits of information strewn throughout the World Wide Web.

The link lists that I subscribe to are like little bits.  Snacks, if you will.  The really good ones will sum up entire articles in only a few sentences so that I’m not forced to read the entire linked-to-resource to find out why that person found it interesting.  Really bad ones do the opposite.

The blogs that I subscribe to, in general, are well-written, hand-crafted, and consistently of high-quality, interesting information.  The others are generally related to my work or things I’m interested in learning about.  There are, also, the few that seem to fill in the cracks to make my subscription list more human and fun like photo blogs, blogs written by friends or family, and Web comics.

Lately I’ve been questioning my information in-take.  What is better; reading these little bits of information rather than chewing on the whole meal, or maybe the other way around?

The more I think about it, the more I realize how new this dilemma is.  Before the advent of the Internet the only way to get this much information at one time was to have a stack of books or magazines sitting in front of you, rifling through them as fast as your thumbs would allow, and reading a single paragraph from each page as you did it.  You’d probably think someone doing that was crazy but that is exactly what it feels like I’m doing.

Have you ever spoken to someone who knows 20% about a topic?  Sure they can hold their own in passing conversation about the topic so long as the conversation doesn’t last longer than 30 seconds.  Once the conversation gets specific, the “20 percenter” is left standing there trying to catch up to the conversation and realizing they don’t know anything at all about the topic.

I’m beginning to think that unwittingly I’m going to end up being that person.  A topic will arise at a gathering that I’ve read only four sentences about and I’ll answer the inevitable question of “Have you heard about (insert topic here)?” with a resounding “Yes!”.  Then I’m caught.  I’ve just stepped through the door of saying that I know something when I truly don’t.  Well, yes, I’ve read four sentences about how the Mars-lander was able to take a solid, ice-like material, and turn it into water (H2O), but I know absolutely nothing more about the topic.

So what do I do?  Stop reading link lists?  Perhaps.

But then what about blogs?  More often than not blog posts by friends, family, or even those related to the industry I work in do little more than entertain, catch me up on “the news”, or completely distract me from what I should be doing.  Very, very rarely have I found a blog post to be wholly beneficial to have in my brain.

Think about it.  When was the last time you remembered a blog post, in its entirety, to solve a problem you encountered.  Right away you’re probably thinking about a problem you had with your iPhone, or some sort of electronic device, that you fixed because you read a blog post about it.  That may be true.  But couldn’t you have found that information by doing a quick Google search?

Since the Egyptians began beating up papyrus plants some 5,000 years ago humans have used “books” ((Paper based products like scrolls, books, and loose-leaf paper included.)) so why should I be any different?  I really enjoy reading books.  The tangibleness of a book is much better than reading on-screen, which is part of it, but the other part is the wholeness of books.  It is an entire work in one spot.  Blog posts, for the most part, are just pieces of ideas and opinions about a given topic rather than an explanation about an entire topic.  More often than not they take for granted the fact that the reader understands the topic being discussed (perhaps due to context or just because it is something that is considered general knowledge by the audience).

So do I unsubscribe from every-single-blog, shutdown my computer, and just go to a library every time I need to learn something? I’d say absolutely not.  But I do think there is a balance and I’m going to work at striking it.