I learn a lot every year, but like to reflect on the biggest thing I took away from the previous 12 months. For 2010, that lesson would be the importance of being an information omnivore.
An information omnivore (in my definition) is someone who reads and consumes information from a wide variety of sources … books to microblogs, speakers to cultural events. Books remain a primary source of knowledge for me (coming from a family of librarians), and perhaps no book influenced my job as much as Susan Weinschenk’s Neuro Web Design — which helped set goals and tactics during our sitewide redesign. I’m currently reading Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy for the Web, which is sparking more ideas. And Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food not only influenced my diet, but served up insights for the workplace.
Social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook are excellent sustenance for information omnivores, dishing out a smorgasbord of articles and blog entries of interest, influence and ideas. I was blessed to make it to several conferences where I learned so much from some outstanding speakers, as well as from an awesome network of friends throughout higher ed. I think that every person I encounter — from world-famous speakers to my own students — have something to teach me if I’m smart enough to listen.
But my trumpeting of information omnivores also reflects a troubling trend: In an ideologically polarized time, more people seem to prefer less variety in their news and information diet. I’m not just talking about regular Fox News watchers, but those who choose to fill up on (depending on view) right-wing or left-wing blogs … they choose not to be informed but to have information that backs up their worldview, which they can defend in chatrooms, troll-filled online article comment sections or anywhere anyone deign have another opinion. It’s like we’re reverting to earlier days when any city of decent size had different papers for each political party. (And I can’t help but wonder, for example, what the publishers of the old Oswego Daily Palladium and Oswego Times, who savaged each other on the editorial pages, would think to know their bully pulpits merged into the Oswego Palladium-Times.)
At a time where more knowledge is at our fingertips than ever before, let’s explore it and open our minds to every avenue. Become an information omnivore — read, listen and let the treasures of learning enrich you.