PW: The narrator in Four, in the Morning complains that the “News was never new.” How do you go about acquiring pertinent information in today’s hyper news cycle/media information overload?
MA: This is a good question as I am a self described Information Junkie, and have a bit of a problem not being able to get enough. Like any smart junkie though, I’ve had to cultivate my “dealer network” so I only get the best stuff, and in a frequency enough to neither get the DT’s nor overdose. So much of the available media amounts to stepped on crap, “infotainment” that amounts to dope cut with baking soda and animal dewormer. What I want is really good stuff, in proper doses that I can handle. Being an information junkie means information can be fuel, but like any other habit, it can overwhelm and destroy. One has to be careful. To avoid absorption and destruction, I limit myself to only so much time for taking in information. Then I use that fuel to work, rather than to keep going back to the needle.
This amounts to an approach of controlled and limited access. Information access is a habitual activity, some people start with the newspaper (or the online version) over coffee, others with CNN before dawn. I tend to avoid traditional news sources as a habit, only checking them when I want a closer look at a specific issue or event. My information intake starts with my circle of friends and contacts, and what they bring me via email, social media and the good old telephone. I prefer intellectual individuals and cultivate meaningful friendships as a rule (I conveniently forget to water and feed those which aren’t), so what my friends share is usually pertinent. Then I subscribe, either via email, RSS or traditional print, to various media that I trust to give me a broad perspective. This is true both for personal interests and professional. I give a certain part of each day to gathering from these sources, but I keep to that time allotment.
From my usual sources, I am able to find out a sufficient amount about what I find important. Sufficient, at the least, to give me places to start looking on my own. That’s the last part. Once I’ve gotten my stuff, like any junkie, I go into my private rooms and begin the ritual. No spoons, lighters or needles for me though, just curiosity, idea, and a laptop or a pile of print. Once I have a question, piqued interest or idea, I go searching for specific information. I’ll start with the trusted sources, but inevitably will go beyond them. This is how new trusted sources are found, and the short-comings of the extant ones discovered. My preference is for the less-than-mainstream sources, but I will go anywhere to find what I’m looking for. I try very hard to never create a closed system. In the words of the great military theorist Col. John Boyd, “Living systems are open systems; closed systems are nonliving systems. Point: If we don’t communicate with the outside world – to gain information for knowledge and understanding as well as matter and energy for sustenance – we die out to become a nondiscerning and uninteresting part of that world.”
I thrive on, and rely on, information that is high-grade, pure. My process lets me select for pertinence, real value, and almost automatically deselects useless pap. Particularly now, as having done it this way for years I am sensitive to subtle cues, often hard to describe, that help that selection/deselection process be more fluid. And then, fueled up, I go to work. So far, it’s working well for me.