But today, I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self-evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available”. A new self that needs to contain less and less of an inner repertory of dense cultural inheritanceâ€”as we all become “pancake people”â€”spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.
But the truth is most of our information tools still have a fuzziness built into them that can, in Richard Foreman’s words, “often open doors to new worlds.” It really depends on how you choose to use the tool. Personally, I have two modes of using Google: one very directed and goal-oriented, the other more open-ended and exploratory. Sometimes I use Google to find a specific fact: an address, the spelling of a name, the number of neurons estimated to reside in the human brain, the dates of the little ice age. In those situations, I’m not looking for mistakes, and thankfully Google’s quite good at avoiding them. But I also use Google in a far more serendipitous way, when I’m exploring an idea or a theme or an author’s work: I’ll start with a general query and probe around a little and see what the oracle turns up; sometimes I’ll follow a trail of links out from the original search; sometimes I’ll return and tweak the terms and start again. Invariably, those explorations take me to places I wasn’t originally expecting to goâ€”and that’s precisely why I cherish them. (I have a similar tool for exploring my own research notesâ€”a program called DevonThink that lets me see semantic associations between the thousands of short notes and quotations that I’ve assembled on my hard drive.)
which I thought was relevant to Clearspace (the word serendipitous comes up more often than you’d think in product conversations) because it shows how search is more than just a directed, singular focus kind of activity that lots of people assume it to be. The first quote is telling too: all the iPhoning, Facebooking, Twittering, Flickring, Clearspacing and Emailing leaves us stretched thin: when was the last time you sat down to read something or write something longer than a single page?