Resolutions for 2013: Depth

There is a problem that troubles me: how to access depth of knowledge in a world increasingly adapted to the three-minute morsel.

There's no question that any of us has access to a huge amount of information these days. Why, if I were to just think of any question, I could probably find an answer to it in no time at all! How many American presidents had moustaches? What kinds of foods does one eat for breakfast in Singapore? Who invented mascara? How do you fold an origami lily? Omniscience at my fingertips. Wikipedia, sure, but also Ask Metafilter, eHow, YouTube, Quora, and any of a thousand thousand niche message boards with communities full of helpful experts.

Resources like Wikipedia may lead us to have great breadth of knowledge -- knowing a small to moderate amount about anything -- but it comes at the expense of depth: coming to learn lots and lots about one narrow topic. Having just your immediate question answered means you're leaving unturned fields of adjacent knowledge that might add relevant nuance to a situation.

And the problem of filter and social bubbles means there could be any number of important and interesting questions we never even think to ask at all.

I recently read a book entirely about salt. It was amazing, and along the way I experienced huge shifts in my understanding of history. Think: Salt as a key strategic military resource, influencing who was dominant and who was targeted for centuries. I learned tremendous amounts about the underlying connections between simple things that form the skeleton of history.

It's precisely these connections between things that are most helpful to shaping an accurate and meaningful understanding of the world. And this is, in turn, necessary to writing that feels True-with-a-capital-T.

When I was a kid, I'd stumble into the school library and devour all of Egyptology, or the solar system, or Rennaissance fashion. Volumes and volumes of information all went into my brain and fermented there, and ultimately all helped to shape who I am now.

But depth isn't something you can stumble into anymore. You have to actively embrace it. It requires a nearly monastic clearing your head of lolcats and Gangnam Style parodies, stepping away from the idle back-and-forth of Twitter and Facebook, and diving into a topic until it's all the way over your head the old-fashioned way: Nonfiction books about knowledge, not about business theory or writing or strategy or productivity, or the hundred other kinds of nonfiction that we think make us virtuous but don't actively teach us much about the world outside our own bubble.

It's hard to do. Hard to find the time, maybe hard to find a topic compelling enough. It's hard to focus on only one thing, even through the boring parts or the ones you don't quite follow yet, when we have so much shiny and fun clamoring at our elbows.

But it's important. So in 2013 I'm resolving to try to dive deep on one subject a month, for the entire year, and I hope you'll join me. Who's in?

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