Browsing versus Building

I was an information browser long before internet browsers were invented.  This tendency manifests itself in a number of ways.

When I finally had TV to myself and a remote control in my hand, I quickly became a channel surfer.

In the library, I would play a game by walking down a randomly selected aisle, stopping randomly, turning either right or left, randomly, and randomly selecting a book of a predetermined smallish size.

A similarly styled movie game didn’t last long.  It’s rules involved turning up at a multiplex cinema and buying a ticket for whichever movie was next to start.  You can probably see how this one is going to fail.  Strawberries and Chocolate was a sub-titled treat I would never have picked.  Se7en was a aberation, albeit very clever, but I would never have picked it if I knew what I was in for.  Game over.

My browser style is quite evident when I go to a museum or art gallery with my Mum.  She is very methodical and reluctant to miss anything.  I’m bouncing off the walls with no clear trajectory.

Many fields of science would pose theories to explain this aspect of my nature.  I have a theory of my own.  During childhood, we watched a TV program called “Adventure Island“.  Part way through the series, they ran a competition to give the talking house a name.  As with all competitions, there was the build up to the announcement.  Very exciting for one so young.  And in my rural world, farms had names but houses didn’t.  Mind you, houses didn’t talk either.  The announcement came – “Serendipity”.  I still wonder if it was the first proper big word I learnt – 5 syllables.   A well chosen name for a house whose front door led to a range of exciting yet educational stories and experiences.

This has created a problem.

Information is something we can browse but knowledge is something we must build.

I’m working on a uni assignment at the moment and using my browser style to find interesting articles I can use in my essay.  However, it has become evident recently that this research style only gets me so far and no further.

When people specialise, they have an opportunity to build a bank of knowledge about one particular thing.  I’ve been reluctant to specialise and have only in the last couple of years found myself in the role of technical specialist.  It wasn’t deliberate.  I stayed in the one job for too long.

Having now experienced the benefits of being considered the expert, I’ve decided it is time to change my research style.  No more the random search for interesting articles and getting sidetracked along the way by other interesting articles.  Well, some days that will still happen.  But, I must now add proper research to my tool kit.

I must embrace the methodical.

Timely then was serendipitously stumbling upon a article about the Big History Project.  The following is quoted from their website:  “All too often, students learn facts and skills but don’t have the chance to connect them all. Big history links different areas of knowledge into one unified story. It’s a framework for learning about anything and everything.”  I like the sound of this – can I really have my cake and eat it too?

It isn’t quite what I had in mind when I pondered the process of systematic reviews as a way forward, but I’m prepared to believe that serendipity can work hand-in-hand with something a little more organised.


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