The Signal and the Noise

Do you remember how precious information used to seem?

(If not, I’m assuming you came of age after about 1998. That’s cool too.)

Recently, my parents cleared out their basement (which needed it, by god – some of the clutter strata went back to the Pleistocene … or at least the Plasticine), and I’ve therefore found myself sifting through bags of ancient Léanabilia.

I used to keep a lot of stuff.

(Dear people who know me offline: yes, I still keep a lot of stuff. But I used to keep … a lot … of stuff. Hey, there’s more stuff around now than there was then, anyway. I keep a smaller proportion of it.)

Specifically, I used to hoard information.

Patterns and instructions … (What if I want to make another lavender-stuffed cat?)

The few pages of text at the start of a book of cardboard models … (What if I suddenly need a really concise overview of seventeenth-century American architecture?)

Pamphlets and leaflets of all kinds … (What if I develop an insatiable curiosity about the structure of the European Commission in 1988? Shh. It could totally happen.)

I had as a model, I think, the Enlightenment-inspired notion of a well-stocked library – the ability to find whatever information I need, at my fingertips, within my purview – no need to go searching elsewhere.

Nowadays, of course … well. You hardly need me to tell you how the information landscape has changed in the past couple of decades.


Blog posts mailing lists personal e-mail Twitter Google+ Facebook Livejournal groups forums communities links links links more links links from friends retweeted links links to news books YouTube TED Flickr Instagram oh god Pinterest… And that’s just my particular set of tracks through the electrons. You probably have more.

In sum, there’s a lot of information out there. If you aren’t careful, you can easily drown.

I reached my personal tipping point about two years ago. Quite suddenly, my key question shifted from “how do I get at all the information that interests me?” to “how do I filter out everything except what’s most delicious?” How do I pick out the signal that resonates for me amid all this NOISE!!!?

What to do?

Refine. Pare down. Cultivate ruthless discernment. Ask, always, “Do I need to see this?” Try to avoid mindless clicking.

I’m trying. And I’m still overwhelmed. The sheer force of the information water cannon paralyses me. I go to ground. This isn’t all bad, mind you – I’ve had a couple of days recently of absolutely minimal internet, and they’ve been kind of great.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about String Revolution (yes, this is yet another thing that arose from my trip to Portland for Rally in April). Where I want it to go. What I want it to be. I have some big ideas … and I need space to develop them.

And frankly? I refuse to post for the sake of posting – or, as the blogging czars would have it, “to build audience” (that’s you. I’m supposed to be building you – ew).

I’m going to develop my ideas. And I’m going to post here when I have something to say.


If this is noise to you…

If, when you see there’s a new post on String Revolution, you don’t consistently feel excited and delighted (Dubliners, please insert correct pronunciation), then go, with my blessing. Unsubscribe. Don’t click. Whatevs.

Find your own signal.

Find it here, if it’s here. Know that you are welcome here, and loved here, and that I am just as excited and delighted to encounter you as you are to encounter me.

And if it’s not here, find it elsewhere.

Thank you. Over and out.

11 thoughts on “The Signal and the Noise

  1. I wish to object to the incorrect spelling of excira and delira 🙂

    And now I’m going to throw out some recipes.

  2. Ahahaha. No, I’m not, cos I don’t know where the recipes are amongst all the other junk.

  3. Hrm… Well, I guess I’ll keep reading for now.

    (Mind you, information overload has been a cultural concern since the days of Gutenberg, so I will still keep a room in my home as a library. Not a study, not a work space, but a library; a repository of knowledge and literature.)

  4. Enganging with information, analysis, interpretation, stories, narratives, histories and etymologies, the superstructure of the moral universe, the substructure of the physical one, thoughts, ideas, quotes and arguments, studies, history and possibility, and context, context, context…

    It’s a chore. It’s a responsibility. It’s a millstone of knowledge, and it’s the shoulders to stand on. It’s necessity and insecurity.

    At the heart of my own need to know, and to collect, is, a love of serendipity and the sometimes lack of discernment it requires, a desire to be right, a desire to not be the person who does not know the answer, a love of engagement, a fear of not engagoing completely, a delicate and ferocious curiousity, a sense that context is key, and overwhelmingly demanding to narrate and unxerstand. need to be liked, and respected. A pride in generosity. A desire to do things well. A fear of missing out.

    But there is also this nervous fear that sings at the heart of it for me. It is the fear of time and of dying. It is the fear of understanding and experience lost. It is the ssame unhappy and sharp fear that prys apart my mind between the unexpected wrinkles, that gathers in the crows feet, that peeps out from behind the receding hairline and that sees and envies youth. It is as sharp and clear as the fear of illness, it is as frail and penetrating as the love I see unfurl in the face of my parents ageing and new incapacities.

    It’s, unexpectedly, the fear and experience of my own mortality.

    There is a joyful viciousness at the heart of cutting out the noise though.

  5. @Mollydot: Er, indeed, not knowing where to find one particular bit of junk … a perpetual problem! 😉

    @Flâneur: It’s true that the feasibility of engaging with the world’s information has been declining sharply for centuries. What’s striking to me is how much has changed in twenty years. For me, the shift internally has been qualitative – from “how do I find?” to “how do I filter?”. That said, I’m not planning to give up my vast collection of books either!

    @Rex: What a beautiful, thoughtful take on it. Thank you.

    Mortality – definitely. I went through many years of experiencing panic whenever I imagined all the books I wanted to read and set that against the time I might have in this lifetime to read them. I think what’s happened to me more recently has been a kind of surrender.

    I also love the phrase “joyful viciousness”. You’re right. There is.

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