I have been re-reading Neal Stephenson’s Anathem (for the third time, no less) and it has set me to considering my own approach to learning and acquiring new knowledge. The book is built upon a fairly substantial collection (for a fictional novel, anyways) of foundational philosophical concepts, one of which is the ideas around The Long Now. It is easy to overwhelm oneself with the relative significances of passing time, particularly around the new year, but Stephenson seems to present an affinity for a more philosophical approach to this in his writing. In Anathem, time — and specifically the deliberate compartmentalization of time by the characters — is a means of focusing the perspectives differently among the ensemble cast. That is to say, because of the character’s individual experiences within a society that has compartmentalized themselves around some of the philosophies of The Long Now, they interact in particular ways that drive the story forward.
What does this have to do with information philosophy, one might ask. I ask, what doesn’t it?
In a philosophical approach to understanding how we learn and process new information in our own minds, time cannot help but be a key variable. With respect to The Long Now, it would not be so much the idea of how quickly one learns something though, but rather the idea of the value of information on a longer time scale. In other words, news and day-to-day trivia rank low on the priority list whilst histories, proofs and theorems rank much higher. One’s personal information priority would never be as simple as choosing either extreme, however, but where one finds balance in the spectrum of information priority would have very much to say about one’s approach to knowledge in general.
For my own part, I would suppose that this informational ‘digging in’ — insomuch as that is even possible in the modern data clutter — is an effort that could prove rewarding, at least from the perspective of self-education.