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    inhalation, exhalation

    I've been thinking a lot, this morning, about this quote from Harvard rare books librarian Matthew Battles: "The people who shelve the books in Widener [Harvard's library] talk about the library's breathing—at the start of the term, the stacks exhale books in great swirling clouds; at the end of the term, the library inhales, and the books fly back."

    I've been thinking about this model—inhalation and exhalation as metaphor—and it occurred to me that this model also describes the way I think of the brain. Given that the brain is an information-processing organ, one can think of it as breathing in information. Given that the brain is also the seat of human creativity one can think of it as breathing information back out as well.

    I take in a lot of information as part of my daily experience. Like most humans, I crave novelty, and I make good uses of the tools and resources that allow me to maximize the amount of novelty that I come across. I follow a couple of hundred people, organizations, and things on Twitter. I follow a couple of hundred blogs using Google Reader. I have my Pinboard network set up to dump directly into Evernote. As of this weekend I'm now also using a Chrome extension that allows me to shoot longform Web articles directly to my (new!) Kindle.

    I say this partially to brag about being how fast and dense I am, but there are times when the whole process is disquieting. I worry, a little bit, about "data hoarding." (It is, after all, not healthy to inhale too deeply and too often.) I like to think that I'm not just mindlessly consuming stuff to add it to the pile of mindlessly consumed stuff. I tend to work processes on the stuff that I take in: I tag it, I index it, I aggregate it, I curate it, I rank it into lists. I hope that some of these activities begin to count as a type of exhaling. Not hoarding but sharing. (This gets complicated when we begin to think of what it means to "share" something in the digital realm—sharing a link is importantly not the same as sharing something finite, like, say, food—but that's maybe a topic for another time.)

    Or maybe not hoarding but investing. A lot of the creative work I do involves writing—it's my major form of imaginative exhalation, to go back to the metaphor that I'm straining here. I like to think that all this data that rushes into me feeds the work that I do, provides the "Silent Partner" with important nourishment, turns it into something that someone may consider valuable. I hope it helps, rather than hinders. (If you want to see what a book looks like when the author is drenched in Too Much Data, you might enjoy this.)

    This is also a piece about having (mostly) stopped blogging. If nothing else, this blog used to serve as a good place for synthesis and reflection, a place to pause and make sense of the information I'd taken in, to try to figure out where it was all pointing. I wish I were doing more writing here; I kinda miss it.

    Breathe in. Breathe out. Keep going.

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    Monday, August 06, 2012
    11:51 AM


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