Your Personal Information Ecosystem

“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
— T.S. Eliot

Information arrives at your consciousness by various means. You choose to pay attention to certain things and not others. You also inform other people by multiple means. (Even if the “other” is your future self.) All these means form part of your personal information ecosystem. You have one; we all do.

For me, that ecosystem includes various email accounts, Slack channels, Twitter accounts, a Facebook account, the World Wide Web, etc. These are just the purely digital ones. I also have a personal library, access to a decent public library, a subscription to The Economist, and more. There are movies and TV shows, radio stations and podcasts, and so on. And of course, there’s also lots of information that comes to me via the people I interact with in person.

(I do not include here ambient information I get from my immediate surroundings. The turn signal at the intersection is undoubtedly informing me, but I don’t consider it part of my personal ecosystem. Although perhaps critical, its influence on me is highly localized and fleeting.)

While I have access to an enormous wealth of information through these means, I don’t (can’t) pay attention to it all. I curate the things I have access to. I own only some books and don’t aspire to own all of them. I follow over 700 accounts on Twitter and am always looking for ways of lowering that number. I intentionally cull the means through which I become informed.

Those are just the means by which I acquire information. I also put information out into the world. Some of the means I use to do so overlap with the means through which I become informed. Email, for example, is a two-way medium. But I also have some means to get information out which are mostly for publishing. (This blog, for example.) I put out a lot less information into the world than I take in. Hopefully, the stuff that comes out has value over what I took in. (At the very least, the value may come from new connections between previous pieces of information.)

My personal information ecosystem isn’t static. I’m continually re-evaluating things. Am I well-served by my Twitter account? The answer used to be an undeniable “yes.” These days, it’s less clear. I’ve long abandoned some means I used to become informed. There was a time in my life, for example, when ICQ was important to me. It’s been a long time since I’ve even thought about it.

The point is, I try to be intentional about what I let into and what I put out through my personal information ecosystem. Some means I’ve chosen, others have been selected for me. (For example, some roles require that I have and check specific email accounts.) I often think about the components of this ecosystem; how they work together (or not) to make my life better.

What about you? Have you designed your personal information ecosystem, or has it been designed for you? How much say do you have over what you let in and put out? Is your personal information ecosystem serving your goals and needs? How intentional are you about how you inform yourself?