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02/11/2012: "Information Portion Control, Part Two"

The morning after I wrote my first post on Information Portion Control, I didn't have time to read any philosophy. I had a meeting in downtown Seattle and had to hustle in order to catch the bus. I had a summary paper that I needed to read but not for the meeting I was going to, and was listening to some Ludwig van on my MP3 player, thereby creating a distance between myself and the other passengers on the crowded bus. After I finished the paper, instead of starting to dive right in and read more of my library copy of Message in the Bottle that was tucked in my bag, I started to look at the world both inside and outside the bus through the lens of what I had read yesterday.

Instead of trying to gorge myself on the next piece of information I could find, I began to think critically about street signs and pieces of graffiti as symbols, and how it is that I understood what they meant. A "No Parking" sign (or one of its many variants) is something that I can, in a span of time so small one could never measure it, make a connection in my mind that the particular rectangular shape I was seeing out of the bus window on this particular day in this particular place at this particular time was an instance of a "No Parking" sign. How does such a thing happen?

The piece of graffiti (the one I am recalling is the word "Whore" written on the lower right-hand corner of a building) that I observed was another example of making the connection that the words written with spray paint on the side of a building was an instance of "graffiti." That instance of graffiti is unique; it was not mass-produced like the "No Parking" sign, it doesn't have a set meaning in the way that the sign does, and is trying to express something altogether different from all the other pieces of graffiti that has ever existed. But what is the meaning of this particular piece of graffiti? Does the fact that the person who created the graffiti (I'll leave the ethics of creating graffiti for another discussion) put it on this particular spot mean something in particular, or were they just "marking their territory?"

It is not a stretch to say that this line of thinking is not something that I do not usually engage in, especially when I am on the bus. My friend's suggestion to read philosophy in the morning and my attempts to engage in information portion control had resulted in a kind of intellectual stimulation I had not experienced in a long time.

Another factor that came into play later that evening was that my fiance and I watched Werner Herzog's documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The movie is about Chauvet Cave, which is a perfectly preserved prehistoric site with hundreds of cave paintings and bones. I cannot recommend the movie (or any of Herzog's other films) enough, but this viewing had especial significance for me considering the philosophy I had been reading.

Percy had a theory called the "Delta phenomenon-" the moment where a human makes the connection between the thing they are personally experiencing and the word that other humans use to describe the thing being experienced. Percy uses the example of when Helen Keller understood, with the help of Anne Sullivan, that the thing she was experiencing- water- and the symbols that Anne was tracing on her hand- meant that it "is" water. It is one of those historical events that I learned about as a child and you never forget. It was, however, the first time in years I had thought of it, and I was now looking at it with fresh eyes, and seeing how it was such an important moment for humanity being able to better understand ourselves.

"Cave of Forgotten Dreams" stirred the same thoughts and emotions. I have known about cave paintings since I was a child, but hadn't thought of how important they really are. These artists of the past left behind not only art, but profound clues as to when and how our species made the leap from being animals to humans.

How far removed were these cave artists from the people like myself who were crowded onto the bus that morning, most of whom were plugged into electronic devices that were transmitting information to them? Do any of us have the capacity anymore to make such massive intellectual leaps as the cave painters did?

It is funny to think that I am starting, in a sense, to come full circle. As a freshman in college, I started off as a Communications major, thinking and learning about theories like this and wondering about their applicability in the wider world. Now that I have a Master's degree in Information Management, I find that how people communicate has a great deal to do with my work, and is also stimulating my writing as well. I will continue to explore this subject in future posts.

PS- For the record, two days after the bus ride, I returned all but two books and two DVDs to the Seattle Public Library. "Message In The Bottle" and four other books I have out from the University of Washington Library and haven't made the trip over there yet.

As for the internet overconsumption part of information portion control plan, I had 1.5 days of limited consumption and fell off the wagon the past 2.5 days. I hope to get back on the wagon today with my internet portion control, and to look at my physical space- my study- and try to better control the information flow in here as well.

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February 2012

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