Wednesday, December 9, 2020

the forager brain

Quote from Joshua Quittner, I think from Time Magazine circa 1998:

I am nuts for information-- as are we all, I suspect, most real men and women.  I can't get enough of the stuff.  When I'm clicking through the hundreds of E-mail messages that await me each morning, sometimes I imagine I'm a mighty information whale, sifting through thousands of tiny (but nutritious!) krill bits.  Yum!  Whether it's reading the cereal box or scanning the advertisement slide show some genius thought to project on the big screen at the movie theater, my appetite for information is unquenchable. 

This metaphor is kind of formalized as Information Foraging Theory. The claim is humans forage for information the way other animals forage for food - and that can be usefully applied to analyze "doom scrolling" and kneejerk email checking  and similar behaviors, where we swing back to the hunting grounds, and then stick/scroll around for periods of time based on the likelihood of something good showing up.

I was thinking about how I also stockpile information, and I use a motley collection of apps and websites to do so:

Simplenote App:

  • Projects Done
  • "Wisest" quotes
  • "Factoids and Intermittently Useful Information"
  • Medical events / things to discuss with my doctor
Google Docs:
  • Shared shopping list with my partner
  • Shared mailing list and zoom info for my science and spirituality reading group
  • Shared idea for future top list
Tot App:

  • Music to Get
  • Videos/Shows to Watch
  • Work Items to Do
Homebrew Online Database:
  • Passwords + Account Info
  • Media Journal
  • Random Useful Websites
For a bit it seemed weird that I don't have trouble remember what's recorded where... but now that I think about it, it makes sense that my brain is pretty well geared at remembering where any given "information hoard" is stored.

I think similarly, I've never been a fan of "RSS style readers" that take pure information content and put it into a generic template... the information loses that extraneous sensory data that helps me intuitively identify and recall the source/hunting ground..

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