I’ve begun teaching my fall class in social media in business and have led the group in a collective moan about the sheer volume of data and information available, some of it valuable, but much of it ancillary at best and junk/noise at the far end of personal/professional value. It’s pretty easy to sell a good set of filters to allow the really good stuff onto our desktops and ignore the rest.
But at what cost?
A super strong set of information filters will likely only reinforce the “echo chamber” of what I think and believe. Critical thinking requires a broader set of information, allowing for my assumptions to be challenged and gray matter stretched. Creative cross-pollination can also follow serendipitous discovery of something that ties to something else that requires a different viewpoint from the one I normally take. A strong data filter may not allow this.
One method I used to have to take advantage of serendipity involved the public library. I would just head down an aisle and see which part of the “stacks” I’d end up in. Grab a title from the shelf and thumb through it….maybe read a bit. Then I’d put it back and (a) change aisles, or (b) keep going, or (c) try another title right where I was. I’ve discovered several new authors I became enamored of this way, and stumbled into some areas I had no interest in at all. But I WAS exposed to the opportunity to experience this process of finding, sampling and playing with curiosity.
I realize that I was at the mercy of whatever physical organization the layout of the library had. Trying to be random with this kind of activity on the web has the same kinds of vague limitations and guidance (the “Feeling Lucky” button on Google or following Reddit or StumbleUpon recommendations). Still, intentional stretching, searching and reaching for a more random, potentially creative (or at least something a little different) is a valuable exercise. Don’t allow yourself to be categorized or placed in a small intellectual room of your own (or someone else’s) design.