More Shovels

There is no shortage of information floating around today. There are a multitude of books, magazines, newspapers, blog posts, articles, videos and podcasts just clamoring for our attention. It’s an incredible thing, this wealth of information we have at our fingertips. Never before has so much knowledge been so easily accessible.

We’ve responded by creating a lot of tools that help us collect this information. We can easily store quotes, snippets or even full articles in any one of a hundred different sites and services. We can save links to the videos and recordings that moved us on some level. RSS feeds make it incredibly easy to consume massive quantities of online articles and blog posts. Tools like the incredible Ifttt help make our many online services interact with each other, further easing the process of collecting information.

But what happens to that information after it has been carefully tagged and stored away? The more new information we collect, the more old information gets buried. That post we read that sparked an idea, that quote that stirred something deep within—lost and buried. Forgotten amongst the piles of all the other information we’ve collected.

Certainly this is nothing new—the issue has merely been amplified. Technology, though, is supposed to work for us. It’s supposed to help us solve issues we’ve had in the past. Why not push our tools to not merely collect, but to remind us what is already there?

We need more services like the Kindle Daily Review and Timehop. Kindle’s Daily Review delivers “flash-cards” of a book you’ve read in the past. It displays notes and highlights that you made. It’s fantastic! I love seeing a passage from a book that I had forgotten all about, but that still sparks something within me. Timehop is similar—it lets you know what you posted on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare or Instagram a year ago. I’ve only been using that service for a short time, but already I’ve found several articles and conversations that I had forgotten about.

Why is this important? Because serendipity is a stimulant. In his book, “Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work”, Douglas Coupland had this to say about Marshall McLuhan, one of the most prescient minds of the last century: “For Marshall, the fun of ideas lay in crashing them together to see what emerged from the collision.” When you rub two stones together, you can make a spark that starts a fire. Put two seemingly unrelated ideas next to each other and the effect is the same.

Searching, for the most part, eliminates those kinds of serendipitous discoveries. It’s a more or less direct path to the very specific type of information we are looking for. A service like the Kindle Daily Review, a service that provides automated nostalgia—that’s the kind of tool that encourages the mixing of ideas, the friction that causes the spark.

We have enough piles. What we need are more shovels.