Thursday, September 13, 2007
So I just removed reddit from my feed reader. Why did I do this? Because in the world of intellectual pursuits, reddit is fast food and candy. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a medium serving of McDonald's french fries from time to time just like anyone else. I have a Chestertonian attitude towards knowledge: not everything has to be fine wine and cheeses, sometimes its ok to relish fascinating factoids and half baked opinions. Humans are good after all, and in principle, so are their fruits. I'm in my fifth year of graduate school, trying very hard to put together a committee to do a preliminary exam for the thesis work, and reddit is the worst kind of distraction. Like, say, The Da Vinci Code, it provides just enough genuinely interesting objects of contemplation to tickle the higher portions of the mind, but does not encourage actual examination of these ideas. Its much easier to jump to the next controversy or factoid. You feel fascinated by the discussion of the relative merits of Python and Ruby or pictures of the prime spiral, but you can read these snippets all day and produce nothing, not even genuine understanding. Producing anything, even personal understanding, is hard, and likely it will be forever, but reading about programming languages is easy. What drove the point home for me was taking a look at the Trends section of Google Reader. I would include a screen shot, but unfortunately, since I removed reddit, the statistics no longer appear and we will have to settle for text. Google's Trends page indicated that I had clicked through to over 3500 articles from reddit's main page alone, and a similar number from programming.reddit.com. All the Journal's I am subscribed to combined had a click through of less than 300. I'm privileged, truly privileged, (and thanks, taxpayers, for paying for that privilege) to study for a living what is arguable the most fascinating physical system known to man, the human brain, and I'm clearly wasting a huge amount of time reading about closures and why Lisp never took off. And you know what, xkcd isn't even that good. So I'm cutting back. I'll enjoy a dip into the world of two minute factoids and endless arguments and conspiracy theories from time to time, but I am saving my brain cycles for an attempt to consume real information and maybe even produce some. I'm going to read books and write papers.