Monday, June 01, 2009

Signal-to-Noise Ratio

A few months ago I had lunch with a former coworker, from my science curriculum developer days. Said colleague is one that I enjoyed working with tremendously, and now works for one of my favorite Sacramento-based organizations. After catching up on life events, the topic turned to aging. He is about 10 years my senior, though you wouldn't know it to look at him, and we were discussing the ways in which the brain changes with age. One of the things he noted was that he can more quickly determine what is important in an analysis, whereas a younger person thinks everything is important. I think my brain is evolving in a different direction because of my fascination with and growing dependence on the internet to discover and retrieve information. I've been somewhat wedded to the idea of myself as a divergent thinker, and generally have sought to cultivate my free-associating mind. I remember that I was once a very directed thinker, and was frustrated by the plodding nature of thought I would experience. Now that I've swung in the opposite direction, I think it's time to seek a better balance. I monitor myself with fair amount of vigilance, so I feel justified in a renewed effort to restructure, once again, my thinking. Over the past months, I've felt like my brain has been less able to differentiate between important and erroneous information. I have also noticed with increasing alarm that writing does not flow from my fingers as if from on high so much as I have a quick-running editor in my head constantly checking word choice and order, causing me to back up, switch, rephrase, etc. I second-guess myself much more than I used to. In generic cognitive psychology terms, I fear that I have become the word-chain-generating automaton whose existence Noam Chomsky sought to refute when he penned the sentence "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously."

I think I'm out of practice. I've spent the last year being busy, and I have lost structured thinking in the process. Oddly, being under pressure does not have the effect it once did; no longer does it spur me to excellent action. My work products are as crappy as ever. The scourge of multi-tasking and the lure of instant information access has made me lazy.

In at least one domain, I know I can make significant improvements: writing. So I've challenged myself to write something with a clear structure that tackles a complex idea every single day in the month of June. I suppose I'm getting nerdy again. I'll be posting here.

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