Thursday, February 05, 2009

Of Trout Steams and Data Streams

“I THINK,” Thoreau wrote in his essay “Walking,” “that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”

Ha! Four hours! Clearly Thoreau did not own a BlackBerry."
The quote above is from Anthony Doerr's essay Am I Still Here? in the January/February 2009 issue of Orion Magazine in which he explores the challenge of living in the real world in light of the allure of living in the virtual world of internet, radio, television, email and other electronic forms of information data transfer.

When we talk about the internet, radio, television and email it's important to distinguish between "data" and "information". Data is a collection of pieces of information that may be true, false, related, or unrelated. Information is the synthesis of data which provides meaning through context and connection.

Meaning, context and connection are hard to find in the barrage of data we receive via email, the internet, television and radio. This datastream is exciting, addicting and often ultimately quite meaningless, which is unfortunate since as humans one of our prime needs is to find meaning, context and connections. The other edge of this sword is that our addiction to meaningless data takes away from our time with friends, family, nature, contemplation, thought, prayer, playing and relaxing.

We can share information (meaning, context and connection) though stories. We live for the stories we can tell - it's how we connect. Stories that provide meaning in life - are centered on friends, family, journeys, life events - not on meaningless or semi-meaningless collections of data gleaned from the datastream.

Stories come from trout streams not data streams.

I recommend reading Anthony Doerr's essay and another by John Landretti called To the Dairy Queen and Back for some insight into how to bring some balance into our wired and unwired worlds.


Sitting here (using my computer, surfing the web and watching TV) I can't help but think of the chorus of John Prine's Spanish Pipedream aka Blow Up the TV. I need to take some of my own advice sometimes...