It's all spinning wheels and self-doubt until the first pot of coffee.

The zen of firehose drinking

So in the last few days, I've read two blog posts lamenting symptoms of information overload, one about a backlog of aggregator items and another about unread mailing list threads. The common thread I've seen between both of these--and other bloggers expressing similar sentiments--is a vague sort of guilt over "missing something".

However, before we had access to syndication feeds or high-traffic mailing lists, we were missing all kinds of good stuff already. It's just been in the past decade or so that personal information aggregation tech has gotten to a point where we're now aware of the dull roar of Things Being Missed.

Fact is, though, that you can't catch everything. At least not and have a human life left over--and even then, you only have so much raw mental capacity to catch it. No, the best thing to do is to relax, accept that you're only able to lap from the stream as it goes by, and be happy that there's a stream to lap from where there was none before.

Aggregate, prioritize, peruse, and discard with abandon. This is continuous partial attention at work.

Archived Comments

  • I used to worry about Things Being Missed, but it was ultimately a limitation of my toolset. Once my preferred aggregator added effective search folders, I let all of that go... anything I absolutely *must* see will fall into a search folder, make everything else pleasantly optional.
  • er, "making"
  • I'm feeling this right now. My aggregrator has been fixed to my desktop for some years now but within the past month or so I've found myself leaving it closed for 3-4 days at a time. That's just insane :) I feel like I'm not participating at the same level but I sure am getting a lot of other stuff done :)
  • I'm sure you're right in the general case, that a Zen calm is the only sane way to deal with the overload. But I still reckon we can get much, much further towards maximising the signal/noise for the individual. So the total number of things seen may not change, but their relevance/utility can be pushed up. Things like Bayesian filters on mail can help, an aggegrator built something like Memeorandum but designed for the individual could make a lot of difference. Then there's the integration issue - why have completely separate, incompatible tools for reading mailing lists and feeds? And creating stuff? Blah, that was slipping into a bit of a rant, side effect of a spilling-over inbox and seriously overweight aggregator...
  • Danny: You're totally right, of course. I think once you've gotten yourself into a no-guilt, zen calm about "missing stuff" you can start to ask yourself how to get the computer to help prioritize and get "better stuff" in front of you. Not to totally toot my own horn, but I've included a few tools in Hacking RSS and Atom to play with these issues. In Chapter 15, I've got a start on a Bayesian filter integrated with a feed aggregator. Also, there's a tool which (I think) is like a personal Memeorandum, in that it slurps down feeds, harvests links, then sorts the links in order of popularity along with the feed entries which mentioned them. I haven't found the Bayes thing to be of colossal use yet, but the popular links analyzer is right up near the top of my feed reading priority. And, I've got just about all the mailing lists I tend to care about in feed form now, thanks to Yahoo and Google offering feeds--as well as this script for Mailman archives: http://taint.org/mmrss/