When I was a child, my parents bought encyclopedias.
We had Funk & Wagnall’s, which is still fun to say. We had Charlie Brown’s ‘Cyclopedia, which is where I learned about fun facts such as Laika being the first animal in space and what the Great Pumpkin is. We had a science-oriented one with cool projects to do at home and great illustrations.
We never had Encyclopædia Britannica, even though it was a household name:
The weird thing was that one day I decided to read them.
The illustrated ones were easy to read. Charlie Brown’s ‘Cyclopedia even had comics in them.
Funk & Wagnall’s was a bit more dense, and I don’t think I got past A, but the books were always around to look up various facts. When I played Illusion of Gaia and learned my character had contracted scurvy from being on a raft for a very long time, I looked it up and found out it was a Vitamin C deficiency. There was even a picture of a hamster with scurvy, which I still see in my head whenever the topic of scurvy comes up.
The point is that I was very privileged to have access to a local library anytime I wanted it, and I don’t know what the catalyst was, but one day I decided to actually consume it. I learned a lot about my world from a young age.
I know some people prefer not to read because they find it to be a pain and a struggle. But there’s always audiobooks. There are documentaries. Between TED talks and conference presentations, videos on YouTube, MOOCs, and podcasts, there’s plenty of information out there for you to learn from.
Of course, now you have a firehose of it, which means you need to be selective. You can’t consume it all. You’d have no time left for you to process it or make use of it or otherwise do anything in the rest of your life.
I listen to audiobooks on my 20 minute commute to the day job. I read at night before bed. In the morning, I might listen to an interview or read a magazine.
The topics are varied: personal development, business, software development, fantasy and science fiction, autobiographies, history, science, and more.
And since I can’t afford to own so many audiobooks, I’ve been taking advantage of my library card.
Let’s see. This is the…
$ date +%U
…25th week of the year. To date, I’ve consumed 29 books in some form or another, which means I’m well on track for a book a week, which is my goal.
And it doesn’t feel like it has taken up a huge amount of my time.
But I did make a conscious effort to consume good information. I didn’t necessarily pick a topic I wanted to learn more about, although I can see doing so to get deeply immersed in it. I picked audiobooks that seemed interesting off the shelf, and even the ones with narrators who cause my teeth to grate have been fascinating.
I know more about how the brain works, how modern urban living was made possible, and how chess evolved and spread. I learned who Shakespeare was and how little we know about him. I learned about the potential reasons why people think that young boys are in trouble today, ideas on how to raise children to be more aspirational, and on the science of thinking. Throw in some heavy physics and a light-hearted set of observations from the vantage point of a number of different people, and it’s not a bad amount of education in a year.
And I’ve still got six months to go, and I’m not even including all of the information I learned from magazines and podcasts.
Consuming all of this information doesn’t just mean I’m better at trivia night at the bar. It means I’m more informed. I can make connections between pieces of knowledge, which means I am more creative. I can understand the world better, which means I can navigate it more easily.
I was really privileged as a child to have access to so much information in my home. It helped me feed my hunger for knowledge, and today I make an effort to read or listen to something each day because that hunger is still there. I’m still curious about my world, and wouldn’t you know it, people have been nice enough to document it for me in an easily-consumable form.
Why not take advantage of it?