Obsessions: January 11th, 2010

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Chart showing the organization of a long-gone dot com.

My mother sent me a belated Christmas gift last week: a large book containing descriptions and growing methods for about 200 household plants. She gave it to me because I have this innate ability to kill any plant that meets my steely gaze of death. In fact, any time I venture to a nursery, Su calls it a “murder trip.”

The book has already saved a few lives, but the thing that really caught my interest was the note Mom sent along with it: “Keep this where you’ll browse it idly.”

So genius. Mom knows I’m a multi-tasker, one who reads while watching television and listening for email, instant messenger, Facebook, and Twitter notifications. She also knows how I learn: I watch a lot of information channels as a first pass, marking things I want to read later. On a second pass, I read deeper, marking items again. On a third pass, an item becomes a subject for research and I Google it to death.

Since Mom understands how I ingest information, she simply told me to keep the book by the living room TV where I can open it anywhere, browse, and begin adding its pages to my filtration method. She didn’t tell me to read it in a disciplined way; she knew that would never happen. Being a retired teacher with some teaching of gifted classes under her belt, she knew to just toss it out there and let it work. How interesting that there are many different methods of learning at our disposal that we may not have thought to use.

I’ve been trying this sort of browsing method with many different things lately, and interestingly, it works much better with physical media (like books and papers) than digital media, because I can easily see the volume of information I need to take care of. As I’m visually oriented, I am also dyscalculaic, meaning I don’t comprehend numbers and volumes easily—counting, listing, and figures are difficult without a visual aid. (Check this list of symptoms of dyscalculia; you may have the condition and not know it. Quite common to visual folks, rarely diagnosed properly.)

If you find yourself looking to browse rather than research in a linear way, there are lots of great ways to handle that. One of my favorites is pretty simple: a tiny notebook I keep either in my bag or by the keyboard. I make sure using it is pleasant by the sensual qualities of the materials. The notebook is by Moleskine, and has a soft, pliable cover, and I use a pen from Cross. On the digital side, there’s a great little application called Things that’s geared towards task management, but also works to catalog ideas you might want to pursue in a check-listed manner. And Evernote is great too. It’s stomach-like in its input methods: You put in text, a picture, a web page, whatever, and Evernote digests it, rendering it automatically searchable and indexed.

I’ve also begun making my learning and thinking more instantaneous in the way I interact with my machine by experimenting with a Cintiq. The simple act of reattaching your pen actions to the surface you’re looking at makes work so much more seamless. No more orienting your mouse to a screen at a different viewing angle. You point, you poke, you draw, you write. Just like you should.

So many simple methods of changing the ways we learn, all inspired by a simple note from home. Thanks, Mom.