attention span

I can imagine myself as Spaceman Spiff, the intergalactic explorer. I start my expedition from a corner of the world by opening my mozilla firefox and clicking on bloglines | my feeds in my bookmarks toolbar. There are 800 unread News items, 115 Tech and unrelated, 734 del.ici.ous feeds, 25 Misc, Sports 25 and checking out 2 and some more folders which I have don’t have energy to list. Luckily I am not much interested in photography and flickr. When there are 38 Dilbert and Calvin & Hobbes to be read and I just go and click on it to remove the annoying (38) from reminding me, I feel desperate. How often can you wipe your slate clean, condemn all those wonderful things to oblivion and start fresh again? I am one who attends to every mail in my mailbox as soon as it comes in, even if it is to mark mail from Roberto Somebody about easy mortgage as junk mail or deleting CNET news on sight. I lost track of the newsletters to which I have subscribed – I no longer do that even if there is a glimmer of hope that I can read something interesting. Newsletters are a thing of the past for me – there is now a Newsletters folder in my Personal Folders to which all my unread Newsletters go. Some I delete on sight, some I don’t have the heart to do so, so just avoid for the moment. I also lost track of the sites to which I have registered with my email id, so there is another Subscriptions folder to which all those go – when I am old, I can look back at all those wonderful sites to which I have subscribed with my youthful energy.

I have my personalized Google page with all the cool stuff – a news section for Kerala (Customized section), World, Business, Sci/Tech, Weather, Word of the Day and Quote for the day. I could resist Yahoo 360 degree. I have one page full of tags in my del.ici.ous, with 44 items in various categories many of which are in toread or a variation of it. How many times have I visited my bookmarks? There is a feature in Add Remove Programs and Desktop Cleanup Wizard in Windows – shows last used date. Probably there should be a tag with last used date or even going one step further a personalized rule to trash items older than a month – that would be neat. I won’t have to worry anymore about the backlog – it will empty itself.

Question is how to manage the information overload and the subsequent pressure and anxiety of not catching up with every thing that is happening out there? Some of it I can gladly let go – I am not worried about politics unless there is some immediate threat to daily life, I am not worried about Entertainment at all because it is now like a stabilized business or circus show where you can expect same act even if you visit once in a while, I am not even worried about Indian Cricket now – see, we can let go of things. Of late, one thing I am not able to let go is technical trends and my inability to catch up with it all. I hop on to one link and it points me to another and like the inter-galactic hero, I am worried that I missed the sights back there somewhere. I have to consolidate my trusted sources, form a habit of quick scanning and reading only some of it, without clicking on too many links, not keep the rest as read later and don’t increase the number of sources unless my time allocated to read also increases proportionally. And I know I had reached this resolution earlier too.

Also sometimes I think people should practice self-control in hyper linking – if it is not important for your reader to go someplace else or you do not trust him to come back, then why sprinkle hyperlinks like landmines. Hyperlinks are kind of like temptations, you would like to just click and see. Keeping a tab on attention span is going to be my responsibility.

This is probably one of the reasons why hardcopy will never go out of fashion. You have to hold it with your two hands and give it all your attention. Browser has infinite possibilities and a Google toolbar to take you anywhere you want – so it will be for short rides, but longer journey should be taken though a book itself.


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