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event-driven brainware

I started surfing the web (do people say this these days?) in the early 00s, probably closer to 2003-2004. This was back in the day when a few MBs of email storage was considered a luxury, most people had slow af dial-up connections and there was more than one search engine on the market. Various feeds, aggregators and recommender systems did not exist and people actually remembered and wrote down URLs and typed them into the URL bar.

Finding information required planning and usually, we were advised by school teachers, libraries were one’s best bet at receiving good information. This was the time when Wikipedia was still nascent and a frequent target of shitposting by my classmates.

Over the last few years something has happened. Instead of having to hunt for golden nuggets of information, one is usually hit by a flood: YouTube videos, blog posts, articles, tweets, news feeds and article aggregators like HN. The problem is not the scarcity, it’s the flood and so pretty much every modern citizen of the internet has become a filter and a curator instead of a researcher.

The appearance of information has also changed. Instead of being presented as barebones HTML with minimal markdown, most articles and blog posts now come with all of the bells and whistles of late 2010s bootstrapified UIs that we’ve come to expect. This makes it hard to differentiate between good information and information that simply looks good without having much substance.

Something about the way I consume information has changed as well. I noticed that I have a lot less patience to engage with long, slow and steady technical texts. Within 140 characters (or 280 now that @jack has decided to increase our collective attention span), I start to drift. My brain craves novelty.

I rarely plan what information and am going to consume and why I need to consume it. Instead, I plug into tech Twitter and activate the brainware that’s been conditioned by (no doubt) well-intentioned engagement designers to be high on novelty. I consume bits of information, sometimes clicking on the posts, but rarely actually engaging with the material. Within a few sentences, I find myself craving to return back to the timeline of the newsfeed and surf for better waves. My brainware has slowly but surely transformed itself into an event-driven system that reacts to whatever pops up infront of my eyes, but rarely makes an effort to master the material. This is part of the reason I eventually stopped frequenting Hacker News - after a while, I realised that even though I was browsing lots of articles, I rarely if ever retained anything.