Increasing your Inteligence
The difference between a computer and a person is the effective use of context. A computer can easily store all of the books in my local library in it’s memory, and even tell me the number of times the word “it” appears in them. It could then take me to every “it” in order by date of publication and page number.
What it cannot do is give me a good recommendation for my next book to read. That takes the input of other people. There are a number of ways for that input to be gathered — for example on Amazon — browsing and buying histories can be tracked and compared, and then various algorithms can go over those patterns and suggest things based on your similarity to other readers.
On the whole, for my music and reading tastes, Amazon knows me better than my family and friends do. But it is far from perfect.
About 17 years ago I had the privilege of drinking Scotch with Timothy Leary in his Hollywood Hills home. I was a tag-along with a bunch of computer geeks. I was a geeklet — I was interested, but I didn’t code. I asked Tim about what it all meant — what did he think it would add up too. He calmly told me about Web 2.0.
You think I’m fibbing. And you are partly right. Web 1.0 was barely going, but what Tim focused on in our brief conversation was that storing lots of data on computers didn’t really amount to all that much. It’s not that different from using scrolls, except for being able to count the “its.”
What computers are really good for is erasing the distance between people.
Computers were really going to come into their own as a prosthetic extension of our nervous system — allowing people to communicate and share information all over the world with other people in other cultures. And that was what he thought was going to change everything.
I tell this story not just to name drop my biggest celebrity encounter, nor to counter the image that a lot of people have of Tim that he was moony eyed and incoherent as he got older. (He was lucid and articulate when I saw him.)
I mean, what were your opinions about the future of the Web in 1991?
I tell this story to place it in context with another thing I learned from Tim — he said that if you want to increase your intelligence you need to hang out with people who are smarter than you.
The web provides users with two sites that let you do just that. Each site lets you front load your interests (in one case books, in the other case web sites) and then it connects you with other people who have made similar choices. You can then look at the other things which those other people like which you have never heard of.
I have always thought of myself as a fairly eclectic reader. I spent about 10 hours my first night wandering though Librarything’s virtual libraries of people who had read most of what I have read, and a whole lot more (by an order of magnitude — I have been feeling quite humble since… maybe that’s why I’m trotting out my Tim Leary story…).
Stumble Upon is something I use every day (you will notice that I have added every site mentioned on this blog to my page there) I used to think of it as a time waster (which it can be, it really all depends on how you set it up) but I have learned so much in the last couple years that now I think of it as “study.”
Anyway: explore, learn, get smarter. Thanks Tim.
Librarything is free to get started in, but it is worth the $10 annual fee for full membership.
StumbleUpon is basically free, but has a “sponsor” option for $20 if you feel like they have added value to your life the equivalent of two blockbuster movies.
1 Comment »