Keeping Up Can Make You Dumber

Creating Passionate Users: The myth of “keeping up”

Kathy Sierra, who blogs at Creating Passionate Users, has written a nice reminder of the dangers of the “myth of keeping up.” As Gardner points out in a recent comment, you know you’re engaged in an exercise in futility when your “books I have to get list” is longer than your open loops list:

I need to get that GTD book, but my “get that book” list is even longer than my open loop list … some days it really does feel like a never-ending downward spiral.

The first step (sound familiar) is to acknowledge that no one really keeps up:

So… it’s time to let that go. You’re not keeping up. I’m not keeping up. And neither is anyone else. At least not in everything. Sure, you’ll find the guy who is absolutely cutting-edge up to date on some technology, software upgrade, language beta, whatever. But when you start feeling inferior about it, just think to yourself, “Yeah, but I bet he thinks Weezer is still a cool new band…

There are some specific suggestions for beginning professionally responsible and still getting out from under pressures of feeling that you have to keep up with everything.

  • Find the best aggregators
  • Get summaries
  • Cut the redundancy!
  • Unsubscribe to as many things as possible
  • Recognize that gossip and celebrity entertainment are black holes, including Slashdot and the Guardian.
  • Pick the categories you want for a balanced perspective, and include some from outside your main field of interest
  • Find a real living breathing person who help you sort out what you need to know from what’s nice to know and what exists only on the edge cases.

The Creating Passionate Users bloggers are all authors of Head First books (, a “brain-friendly” set of programming books from O’Reilly. According to the web site, “they’re all passionate about the brain and metacognition, most especially–how the brain works and how to exploit it for better learning and memory.”

3 thoughts on “Keeping Up Can Make You Dumber”

  1. Ah, but some folks are better at not really catching up than others. 😉

    The comments on that blog are just about as interesting as the initial post. I didn’t comment myself–I’ve just started reading that blog–but as is nearly always the case, I feel there are disjunctions lurking just beneath the surface of what seems eminently sensible. The big disjunction for me is that between passion and filtration. I don’t mean focus–I can do that–but filtration, the resolve on a daily basis to direct one’s attention to a limited set of inputs. In my experience, passion tends to overrun those boundaries, and while that’s wearying, it’s also a pretty good way of getting to serendipity and other kinds of unexpected connectedness.

    At least I think so. I may simply be indulging in special pleading! At any rate, after the piece on cognitive seduction, the CPU blog went on my must-read list. Can’t remember how I first found it; if it was from you, I’m not surprised but I am grateful.

  2. Hi Gardner

    At the Educause Learning Intiaive meeting your lunch partner Alan Kay made a comment that the “job of education was to teach how the mind works and to help individuals become aware of the problems inherent in its ‘natural’ workings”. Minds respond differently depending on the situation, and I think one of the goals for adults in their learning is to become much more aware of the range of styles they can consciously adopt to free them to learn (do, be). Some folks–you and Bryan come immediately to mind–seem to be able to absorb and process a wider range of inputs than lots of other folks. I find that sometimes a period of more conscious filtration can help free energy for passion and serendipity.

    The piece on cognitive seduction was outstanding. There are a set of educational objectives for you!

  3. I’d like to commit that list to memory! It works in all sorts of communication contexts but it especially urgent (poignant?) when it comes to education.

    I think you’re right about the conscious filtration.

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