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Reading and Learning in an Attention Economy

Other than the bits and pieces I’ve read in various places, and other than what I learned from the related Wikipedia site, I don’t know a whole lot about “Attention Economics.” However, the Herbert Simon quote below that I got from the Wikipedia site resonates with my current (probably mostly personal) concern:

…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it (Simon 1971, p. 40-41)

You see, I’m smack in the middle of reading “Everything is Miscellaneous,” one of the many books I have on my personal and professional summer reading list. I think it’s a really important book, but I can’t shake this feeling that it could have been written in about 15 pages. I get the main ideas; I really do. But, to me, there’s a lot of filler material that may be interesting to some, but not so much to me. Yes, Universal Product Codes (UPC) were an important way of coding and categorizing products, but do I need to know the whole history of UPCs? I suppose Linnaeus was an interesting guy, but I don’t feel a need to know his whole life history. Etc.

It’s very possible that this is just me and my own personal reaction to the book, but I fear that having immersed myself in this whole Learning 2.0 paradigm, I’m cheating myself. I’ve become what Will Richardson called a “nomadic learner…I graze on knowledge. I find what I need when I need it.” That such learning is possible and that I can find what I need when I need it is awesome (and one of the main points of Everything is Miscellaneous. But, have I become so nomadic that I don’t stay and graze in any one place for long enough to really, truly learn? Am I compelled to just nibble here and there without really digesting what I’m taking in?

Perhaps this is all part of my compulsion to understand what learning really is and means. I’ve said elsewhere that in my next lifetime, I will be a learning scientist. For now, though, I believe that learning has something to do with the collection and/or accumulation of data, the processing of it into information, and, finally, the logical sequencing and application of that information to form knowledge. If that’s learning, I fear that I’ve become too concerned with data collection; that I need to spend more time data processing. In Simon’s terms, maybe I’m not allocating my attention efficiently.

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