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severalog

3 reasons this pile of kittens will make you believe in ghosts

J. Harry Caufield

It's helpful to be aware of the day's minor irritants. We're at least partially aware of them when they occur, so why not anticipate them appearing again the next day? For me, three of these irritants are as follows.

  1. Online news and literature. It's not just the overwhelming nature of having to realize how I will never and should never read every bit of content I could be interested in. It's not even just because I will never have access to every piece of potentially amusing or interesting information. (Feedly handles much of that issue for me, while the more academic material is deftly provided by Mendeley, Google Scholar, and PubMed). The stressful part is the signal to noise ratio. There is just so much noise inherent to any one content source that it's a strain to determine if there's any signal at all. Much of the noise is certainly content I'm not interested in at all, but increasingly there's also rehashed blandness masquerading as content, whether it's linkbait headlines or poorly-written journal abstracts. I find all this irritating because I really don't like having to multitask, but I also don't want to get stuck in an information bubble. There has to be a balance between being open-minded and focused.
  2. Stacks. They're acceptable for data typing but not for physical objects. If I look around my house or lab and see a pile of anything, I find it incrementally more difficult to focus on anything else. I can't remember where I read it, but someone with a similar problem explained the issue as less of a direct response to the current disorganization and more of a response to the memory of a recent period in life when order had to become a lesser priority. That's a fairly satisfying explanation as I don't tend to find it stressful to deal with others' clutter unless I could have had a chance to prevent it from becoming that way.
  3. A lack of integration with my department. The whole "introvert vs. extrovert" dichotomy is an oversimplification. I don't feel uncomfortable being around people at all. Being in grad school actually makes me feel very outgoing on occasions when my colleagues are playing the "let's see how many times I can check my email during this meeting" game. Even so, I pass people in the hallways all the time who I really should get to know better, if only because they're my neighbors and I may need their help (and vice-versa, of course). That's the issue, though: I'm quite poor at building and maintaining relationships. Or, maybe I'm about as unskilled in it as everyone else is. There's a great potential for confirmation bias as I compare all the people I should communicate with more often with those who I even see regularly. It might just come down to networking, but that term has always evoked the image of a Dark-Suited Business-Person yelling into an early Motorola cell about a need to "touch base" or some other baseball metaphor.
What I'm saying is that I wish I was distracted by other people as much as I was distracted by content and clutter. People are much more useful and interesting.