Just like they say youth is wasted on the young, I think I squandered school when I was in it. The idea of having no responsibilities except general edification seems like such a luxury now. When I had it all I wanted to do was hack around on the web. Now that the vast majority of my hours are hacking around on the web, it’s a huge luxury to just sit and read for a bit.
Part of that, for me, has been learning how much I don’t know. My search for learning in the past few years is why I’ve attended so many conferences. Events are usually a terrible medium for communicating information, at least how most of them are run, and most of their value is human connections. In the past years I’ve been to a few TED-style ones that were entertaining in their fast-paced format (15-20 minutes per presentation, musical or theatrical fluff to break dense ones up) and the curiosity they sparked by nature of being short and incomplete: TEDMED and EG. The format does become tiresome and exhausting after a while though, too short, and like pizza I appreciate the talks more once they’re on TED.com. (TED has one of the best post-conference experiences, and a big inspiration for WordPress.tv. Also check out FORA.tv which also has amazing content.)
So while events are a brief hit, most of my pleasure from learning comes these days from books and highly interlinked websites. Wikipedia is the canonical example, it can be so blissful to be lost in a web of great content, like a choose-your-own-adventure of information, stumbling from link to link and always ending up someplace you didn’t expect.
I wonder if there could be some sort of metric for writing that told you the ratio of time-to-create versus time-to-consume. On Twitter it’s basically 1:1, you can craft and consume a tweet in a time measured in seconds. For this blog post, it may take me an hour to write it and 5 minutes to read (not skim) it. You can work your way all the way up through 8-10,000 word essays, and books that may take years and years (or a lifetime) to create. The higher the ratio, the more potential for learning and self-improvement. (I wonder how you would measure the Wikipedia which has taken lots of people a little time.) I could easily spend four hours a day surfing hundreds of posts in Google Reader, most of them that took a few minutes to create. It’s a sugar-rush of content that crashes after an hour or two and leaves me empty and hungry. A great novel or book feeds my soul. That’s why I love the Kindle — it has helped me read again.