Monday, July 12, 2010

Value of Retrograde Motion

As a chess player, I learned it is good to be able to return to earlier lines of thought. One studies the board, comes up with some lines of play, but continues study: I will get back to that other good move and use it, if there is nothing fruitful in my further ruminations. So before the clock runs out it's best to keep organized.

I noticed also, long ago, how conversations seem to take side-detours. Whether a conversation is a delightful one has little to do with its final map, of course; it usually depends on the quality of the company. As an experiment, I cultivated an ability to backtrack in conversation. To be the guy with the most skill in bringing back what was set aside or even lost; to return the thread to its place. All the while, surely, being tongue-in-cheek about the often unimportance of actually doing so. But often this satisfies both me and my partners in conversation. In the cases of more utilitarian conversations, it's even more useful to return to the main track until it concludes, I think. Even there excursions are useful and do happen, of course.

When I first got a good internet connection, after a hiatus in the '90s, nearly some 12 years ago, about the time Google came along, I was like an untrained chess strategist or conversationalist.

Oh, I wheeled and soared and swung and chased the shouting wind along, through footless halls of data.

I would explore and take twists and turns, and test the equipment, and revel in it all. I just never seemed to get anything done during these fanciful explorations. Sure, my productivity expanded with email and word-processing and amassing actual useful files, and organizing my life. And organizing my ephemera.

But the actual surfing was wild and distracting. Used this way, nothing holds the attention for long. But I finally learned how to track back and then keep going from there. When I needed to, which was often enough.

This is what I think is affecting those current writers of the thesis - you've read it - that computers and the internet are making us unfocused. I don't think so. No, I think we are witnessing newbies, newcomers to the internet, getting lost. Who are they? Why are they late? We have all dealt with them, I think. Especially in general business management, and the newspaper business, in particular, who scoffed at the internet for years. Technophobes, or some who got burned from a lack of skill at separating wheat from chaff. The usual suspects.

I expect they will get over it.

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