Information snack packs
There was a time when you had to consult a book to find something out. You heard right, a great heavy thing made of paper and ink. Encyclopedia salesmen made a killing selling the precursor to Google and Wikipedia. You could learn enough about a subject to get by. There was actually a fair amount of information on most subjects. When you needed more, you’d go to the library and take out another book.
The interesting thing is that you would often learn enough about a subject to speak intelligently about it.
Maybe it was the process: getting up, going to the bookshelf, finding the right book, leafing to the right page and then spending time reading it. Or maybe it was because you had to spend time finding a 200-page book on the subject, so you thought you’d better make it worth your while and read some of it. Either way the result was the same. You could whip out your knowledge and parade it at the dinner table. It might even stay in your head long enough to make it to school.
It could be that my brain is getting more wooden by the day. Or perhaps it’s full. But now that I can count on one hand the seconds it takes me to find the information I’m looking for, I don’t remember it for longer than it takes me to use it. What’s more, I often read just enough about anything to get the general gist. The result? I don’t feel that it’s precious. I haven’t earned it. And so I treat it very casually – the way Canadians treat water. It’s an unlimited resource and it’s always going to be there.
But sometimes you happen across something that’s really well-written, truly interesting and presented in such a way that it sucks you in. It gets you thinking. It doesn’t happen every day, but when it does that information sits in the back of your head for a few minutes, a few hours, and leaves its imprint. It might even make it to the dinner table. I for one find that I’m likely to remember where I found it – the media source, the company website, the blog stream – and be more inclined to go back there for more.
The lesson is obvious: great content captivates. But the point is that it’s more important than it used to be. In the old days you had to read that boring book from the library. Now you can choose from the top 100 results. People have almost unlimited choice in the information they consume. (I just Googled ‘bunsen burner’ and got “About 654,000 results (0.05 seconds”.) So make sure that if they happen upon yours, they stay awhile: make it good.