So, you have decided to use the Internet the smart way? You want to learn something new every day, to broaden your knowledge about the world, to grow as a person and, of course, to improve your career prospects. Or maybe you developed a deep fascination with a new topic you would like to explore. You have come to the right place! The Internet is not only the home of countless cute lol cats, it is also the fastest-growing information database. You can find anything here! Or can you? As Barry Schwartz discusses in his book ‘The Paradox of Choice’, it is becoming increasingly difficult to make even simple decisions when we are surrounded by endless possibilities. Here are 5 tips to make sure you don’t get sidetracked and end up just wasting your time.
“Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.”
― Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
Tip 1: Decide What You Are Looking For Exactly
If you want to develop a particular interest or skill, start off by thinking precisely what it is that you are looking for. Think about the correct search words to use, the terms that best describe your new-found hobby or the most acclaimed starting point. If you just start googling stuff and reading every article which sounds interesting, you are unlikely to get very far in the course of a long weekend. My interest in crime TV dramas initially lead me to become interested in forensic psychology and neuroscience but it was a lot later that I finally found what I really thought ‘neuroscience’ meant. I discovered a Stanford course on YouTube with the title ‘Human Behavioral Biology’ that provided exactly the kind of content I was interested in. It is clear that I had no idea what exactly I was looking for at first. Which leads me to my second point…
Tip 2: Pick Your Sources Wisely
The articles with the fanciest headings are rarely written by the experts in the area. They are the product of careful use of marketing. So, unless you are interested in marketing your journalism, you should better focus on finding the most reliable sources in the field. This might mean looking for university courses, or figuring out who the award-winning scientists in the field are, or checking out what books your better-informed friends liked on Facebook. In any case, be sure to choose a name that means something to you. In my ‘neuroscience’ case, I found a Stanford course and I see this as a reliable starting point. You may try finding a free course online (MOOC or simply recorded lectures), buy a book, or listen to some podcasts. It is usually worth it to invest a tiny amount of money in a book or an audio book at this stage, provided you have found something you like. Chances are, you will learn more from one book than from all the articles you can find online.
Tip 3: Pick’n’Mix
My wise father recently told me: “If you only read the works of American scientists, you will only learn what the USA has to say on the topic.” While I do not agree completely, there is certainly merit in learning from several different sources, ideally in different languages. This will not only broaden your perspective, but will definitely do miracles for your vocabulary as well. What is more, you might just discover areas that are even more interesting than your current focus. When it comes to science, there is no such thing as a ‘consensus’ on a topic, since the nature of science lies in constantly trying to disprove existing theories. Try to keep up with the newest developments in your chosen field by following people on Twitter or subscribing for scientific journals. Chances are, every now and then a fresh ‘lead’ will present itself to give you a different perspective.
Tip 4: Take Some Time Offline
Every now and then, pursue your interests offline. Read a book on the bus. Listen to a podcast while walking in the park. Discuss the material with like-minded people. Try to give your grandmother a ‘My Hobbies 101’ lecture. Take time to think critically on whether the authors are even right. Cross-reference the information from different sources and try to come up with your own examples. Or simply let your mind wonder, let it make random associations, build links. You will be surprised by how different the world looks when you have incorporated your new knowledge into your life.
Tip 5: Don’t Be a Collector
Whatever you do, do not yield to the temptation to start collecting materials, classifying them and carefully storing them on your external hard drives; you will never get to reading/watching any of those and will likely feel bad about your lack of motivation as a result of it. Harness the power of your curiosity while you have it. Spend a day, or a week, or a month actively engaged in a field of interest and let it go as soon as you simply cannot be bothered any more. You might not learn as much as you would have if you had approached the subject in a more systematic manner, that’s true. But, be honest, what are the chances you were actually going to do it at all?