Too much information

I read something the other day, but I can’t remember where it was. And it’s ringing true especially now. Talking about how multitasking really is less efficient when it has to switch processes very frequently, and this is the same as the brain; now compare to how Knuth imposes a batch mode into his life so that he excludes everything that isn’t important to his current work.

I read a bunch of people who write periodically on the web (I am fairly opposed to using both the noun and the verb ‘blog’, but at a pinch I’d prefer the former), and I’d often like to amalgamate my thoughts on the matter and put together something publicly. But two things get in the way: I get distracted and I don’t have enough time. Well, the latter complaint is unavoidable within the context of the problem. Either I’m organised enough to do something or I’m not. (All too frequently, I’m not.) But the former can be a big problem, and in the context (sorry to repeat this word) of getting real work done, it can be quite detrimental to my life if I let it continue.

While I’m sitting at my desk, I might switch between thinking/reading about magnets, TeX, Apple, ongoing projects for other people, random news, random email, tutoring students, and a fair number of smaller things as well. With so many context switches with varying degrees of priority, I can’t possibly hope to keep up with almost all of them unless the situation can be resolved before my brain switches tack again. More problems arise when less important but more enjoyable trains of thought occur, and what’s really important (i.e., my PhD) suffers.

The solution to this problem would be to get some self-disciple, damn it, and ignore all the other distractions, but I seem to not be able to even come close to doing this. I don’t know if it’s because without my distractions, I’m no longer the same person, as if the information I consume is what gives me my own personality. This is indeed a tempting proposition, but I’m sure ingesting less information and concentrating harder on a specific task won’t diminish my sense of self, although it might make me less interesting to talk to, since all I’d know about is a table that floats on magnets.

Days like today, when I have few emails and there’s little news, are supposedly the best, since I can concentrate less on them. Let’s hope that these days occur more often in the future.