That feeling when you remember that novel thing that a person did with a piece of technology to solve a problem, and it is the perfect example of whatever it is that you’re getting at… But you forgot where you read about it. And for the next 30 minutes you rampage through the internet looking for the news article to share with your friend. Every other piece of relevant information is disregarded in the relentless pursuit of that one specefic thing you’re looking for. Maybe you find it, maybe a friend someone on a forum remembers where it is, or maybe it is lost to the internet. We’ve all been there.
Scrying, as defined by Wikipedia, “is the practice of looking into a translucent ball or other material with the belief that things can be seen, such as spiritual visions, and less often for purposes of divination or fortune-telling.” I guess this is mostly done to tell the future, or to see across time, but I would argue that the internet does these things, so its pretty much the same.
The loss of information that we all experience isn’t due to information overload, it is due to a lack of information architecture. I’m sure there is some sort of computational or biological metaphor here, maybe I’ll come fill this in later. I am sure though that I have not come across this piece of information yet, because I currently have a pretty decent understanding of where to find every piece of information I’ve found interesting in the past two years.
This information architecture problem is addressed by having a whole bunch of different blogs and websites. Here is a list as of the publishing of this post:
WikiSeat: Maker Education
Modularity: What I Make & Why I Like It
Maker Cities: The DIY Citiy
Institute for the Future: My Writing About The Future
San Francisco Institute of Possibility: For Chaos
Science Hack Day: For Science
Color Mythology: Building the Modern Myth
CupCake Drone: For Science
Cobego: An Awesome Design Group
If A Tree Falls In The Internet: Art and Music
Book Shelf: Stuff I Read
How I Use The Internet : Literally
Augmented Ruins: Repurposing Infrastructure
FailThing: When 3d Printing Goes Wrong
Some of them are collections of information. Some of them are collections of ideas, or interesting pictures and videos. Almost all of them have images associated with each piece of information. The human brain seems to be really really good at looking at pictures. We’re highly visual creatures. The eye has been around a lot longer than language or the written word. It is my unscientific opinion that this may have something to do with our visual aptitude. The result is that we can scan hundreds and thousands of images very quickly. And if a piece of information is associated with each of these images, then it makes it incredibly easy to navigate back to bits of information or pieces of ideas. Posting bits of information and associating them with images takes some diligence, but it pays off.
In regards to news articles, the above image is a three-month archive of everything I found interesting, related to science or technology.
I’m getting ready for the day when we’re more intimately plugged into the internet. What that means, I have no clue. I can imagine walking through some sort of city street where buildings are sorted by subject of interest, and by month, and pictures of memories and ideas make up the structure and the metaphor become the environment that you inhabit. I’m starting to outsource my brain to this network. I’m storing memories and associations there. Could I live without it? Sure. Easy. But life has become so much more rich and relevant now that I have plugged this part of my memory storage into the internet.
Scheduling: It sucks.
I want a dynamic calendar that looks at the big picture and automagically rearranges for the optimal time, for all parties, without the need for making and breaking precise commitments.
Scheduling a meeting or coffee is easy enough the first time. Lets say we want to get coffee next week. How about X on Monday or Y on Thursday. Its best to give a few options incase they have something else scheduled, right. Right, but its also better to decide on something rather than indecisively stumbling through time. Lets do Thursday at Y. But then something comes up – I’m so sorry– and I need to reschedule, can you do X or Z? No, but how about A, B or C? It feels like this happens way too much.
This is bad because there is a social contract that when you make a commitment, you should keep it. But life does happen, and sometimes we need to adapt. What is wrong with the system we have is that there are probably lots of times that we could go get coffee, but as it is now, we need to make a concrete commitment. This is prone to breaking.
What I propose is a system where we can say, “Yeah lets get coffee early next week.” The calendar automatically determines that it is possible during A, B, X, Z. That way, wither party can go and schedule other things during any of those times without checking with the other person. And if early next week during A, B, X, Z all become impossible, then we send the “I’m so sorry, can we reschedule” email. It doesn’t solve the problem, but it adds a buffer.
Surely someone on the internet has created such a system already. Anyone know where it is?
The best and worst part about the internet is there is so much information being created every minute that no one person could possibly process everything. Lately I have been trying to consume all of the information.
The big advantage of modern computing is the ability to run multiple processess at once. There is research out there somewhere that says our brain cant do this. We can not multitask. Or maybe we can truly multitask… humans are interesting. Anyways, what we can do for sure is rapidly switch between different processes.
On the quest to consume more information faster, I have created multiple chanels, running in parallel that engage different senses. Heres the tools I use:
RSS feed: iPhone app that aggregates new content from my favorite web pages.
Email: for personal messages
The Social Radio: this app reads your twitter stream in near real time through text to speech.
Text to Speech: iPhone feature that makes a robot speak any written content
RjDj Dimensions: for augmented ambient sound
This is tricky to describe because there are so many things happening at the same time, so I will start with how it is set up.
First I turn on Social Radio. This is set up to constantly read my twitter stream in near-realtime. Then I turn on RJDJ dimensions which has ambient noise/music that is augmented with the iPhone audio input. This gives a surreal background noise that reflects my local environment. You get warped beeping of machines, train noises, occasional conversations or the conductor asking for passenger tickets. So that gives me a surreal environment with one stream of information in an audio format. At this point, I can pretty much process everything that is coming in.
Next I read through my email, and respond to one conversation that takes less mental power to respond now, rather than trying to remember to respond later. As I type on the touch screen, I can hear the patter of my fingers echoing through my devices microphone and the surreal audio landscape.
Next I read the front page of the internet: reddit. I quickly skim through a few articles and mentally note one. Did you know that the reason we dont have massive insects is because of birds?
Next I switch to RSS. My phone has aggregated all of the new content on a long list of websites that I monitor. There is always a lot of information here, and its impossible to read everything. I skim through the headlines looking for interesting content. Maybe 1 out of 10 articles attract a closer look. As new tweets are read through a tinny voice in the background of my brain, I read the first paragraph of an article. Apparently there were two companies that make spy satellites for the US gov’t, but the companies were going to merge and create a monopoly, but this didnt happen because of something money related.
Here is a cool key thing that can also hold on to your mail:
And XBOX made something called SmartGlass that aims to connect any device with an open API. This could be interesting so I star* it in RSS, highlight the text and have my phone convert the article into an very quick-paced mechanical voice. It took a while to get used to having a machine read to you faster than your eyes can read every word on the page, but it works well enough. This new voice in my head overrides the relitavely slow paced drone of the twitter stream and the ambient augmented music.
As the article about XBOX SmartGlass is read to me, I continue to scan through my RSS feed for the next thing that I want to mark as interesting and record in my signals database. I also hear the twitter stream being read, and the augmented ambient sound of RJDJ in the background.
As I am scanning through more RSS headlines a hear an interesting tweet from @ioerror about pictures of the earth from the iss. cool. I want to know more, so I got to the Social Radio app where which transmitted the bit of info from the internet to my brain. But there I cant find any feature that connects me to the tweet. What I do find is a feedback button where I ask Social Radio for this feature. One way broadcast of information is whats going on here, and that is over. Social implies the ability to respond or retweet, and Social Radio needs to enable that level of interaction.
I go through more of the RSS feed and send more content to the inbox. Hear quite a bit of chatter on twitter about how Click and Clack from Car Talk are retiring. Many good memories listening to that show as a kid. Star more articles, then through my headphones, mixed in with the ambient music I hear the caltrain operator say Palo Alto. This is my stop. I pocket my device, and get up. The ambient music is so much more interesting when there is action. You can hear bits of peoples conversations and the hum of the train. You hear the beep of people tagging off with their train passes. You can hear the phone swoosh against the fabric in your pocket, and hear it echo into the abyss of ambience while that tinny voice reads more content from the twitter sphere.
In this state, I can not possibly process all of the information that is being thrown at my brain. And Im not sure exactly what my brain filters, and what it holds on to. But it sure is a stimulating and enjoyable experience.
This is my morning newspaper and it requires coffee.
*when I star something in RSS, it is automagically sent through a custom IFTTT channel that stores the article to a special email folder. I can also send any article from, for example REDDIT to a proxy email account that forwards to this special signals database folder. Essentially this acts as a holding tank for anything interesting, so I can go through and curate the best stuff to the signals database tumblr blog that I mentioned earlier.
Recently I discovered that it is possible to do text to speech on the iPhone. In Settings/General/Accessibility there is an option to turn on “Speak Section.” Now whenever a bit of text is highlighted anywhere on the iPhone you can make the computer read it out loud.
This is particularly useful when it comes to reading through an RSS news feed. Every morning on the way to work, I quickly skim through the hundred or so RSS stories that have accumulated. When an interesting story comes up I highlight it and have the phone read to me. And while it is reading I can go through and continue scanning for the next interesting article to read. Even with the text to speech reading speed turned up to 7/10 I can reliably scan headlines while absorbing enough of the spoken text to be useful.
Using text to speech has significantly increased my ability to consume more information faster.
This is an image of how Nic uses the internet.
The basic flow of information is diagonally from top left to bottom right. In short information is gathered on the internet (represented by orange circles) or in the real world (blue circles), then passed through a series of tubes and filters and republished on the other side. New content (purple circles) is also generated, which is similarly republished through a
There are severas areas that information is gathered and/or generated in, from reddit and real-world friends, to twitter streams and conferences. These different sources are represented by large orange (for internet) and blue (for real world).
IFTTT is the glue that holds much of this personal web together. more on that soon.