The Library of Alexandria is oft quoted as one of the earliest, largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. Although the origins are unclear, the idea of it began when a wise man convinced Ptolemy I, a scholar and companion of Alexander the Great, to build a library that would house a copy of a book on every subject known to humankind. Ptolemy II carried forward this idea more obsessively by housing about a hundred scholars in the museum who spent all their time conducting research, writing, publishing, and making copies from other languages. But the nail on the coffin was hit by Ptolemy III.
One story goes that the hunger of Ptolemy III for knowledge was so great that he decreed that all ships docking at the port should surrender their manuscripts to the authorities. Copies were then made by official scribes and delivered to the original owners, the originals being filed away in the Library. — Ancient
An oft-quoted figure specifies that the library was the home to about 500,000 scrolls at the peak of its glory. This is why its inglorious destruction is still a heated debate among historians. But despite the loss of a voluminous amount of literature, we moved on.
We moved on to writing encyclopedias, building dedicated writing rooms, inventing the printing press, the telegraph, television, and in the most recent decades, building the internet, Wikipedia, and social media.
And now, we live in an age where the collective knowledge around the world doubles every 12 hours — a feat that took 400 years just over a century ago.
While the dissemination of information has gone through intense evolution, our brain has not. Our brain is still playing catch-up as we swim in a sea of irrelevant information.
Enough people have addressed this problem with information overload, including me when I wrote an entire guide on this topic. So now let’s turn to a more solution-focused approach: monitoring our information diet.
I sat down to monitor and update my information diet a few weeks ago, and am still in the process. If you’re also interested to do this, join me in this endeavor!
Monitoring Your Information Diet: 4 Steps
Photo Courtesy: Olga Hashim
Here are the four steps you can follow to monitor and update your information diet:
- Identify topics you want to learn about for the next 6 months: Since we’re in the second half of 2022, think about up to four topics/areas you want to genuinely learn more about for the rest of the year. At first, I recommend simply writing down everything that comes to mind, and then stepping back to ask yourself, Okay, here’s all the topics that interest me. But what do I want to learn about this year? Personally, the four areas I’ve narrowd down to are: (a) philosophy, (b) brain & the body, (c) mental models, and (d) mindfulness.
- Inspect & weed the current sources of information: Take a big ol’ hand hoe and visit your current mind garden to inspect all the places from where you consume information. Take a look at your Kindle books, email newsletter subscriptions (including this one!), news websites, magazine subscriptions, and social media channels. Be merciless in weeding out the sources that don’t pass the litmus test of Is this really worth my time? You can always bring it back if you start missing a certain newsletter, podcast, or magazine. It’s not irreversible. Personally, I unsubscribed from most email newsletters save a few, returned the Kindle books that weren’t interesting, and continued blocking my social media feeds.
- Identify & plant new sources of information: This is the fun part of this process! You get to plant new sources. You get to meander through the best parts of the internet and curate subreddits, blogs, websites, and newsletters that have genuinely worthwhile content. Don’t rush this process. It’s supposed to take time. In fact, it’s a perennial one since you’re a dynamic creature whose interests change. For now, focus on curating at least 3 sources for each topics that you can always rely on to supply good information. Furthermore, I also recommend creating a bucket called “People & Blogs” to curate the people whose content you’d like to stay updated on.
- Build a system around it: Finally, if you know me, you know I love systems. Systems override friction. They reduce cognitive load. In my case, I built 2 “systems” around my Information Diet: (a) a Notion page where I curated the links to all the topics I wanted to learn about. I set aside the top part of the page to drop links to what I want to read next. (b) I set aside the first 60-120 minutes of the day to sit down and read, think, and take notes. Until you set aside time to wander your mind garden, building it is useless. I’m sure you have your own systems where you like to curate links and set aside time to read. Just ensure you do this before you end this process.
As I mentioned earlier, I am still in the process, especially around curating links of the best sources under these topics. Eventually, I do plan to make my Notion page public so you can take a look at my mind garden.
I hope that gives you enough to start.
And I hope I make the cut when you begin weeding out your sources. 😉