There’s an odd passage in one of the early Sherlock Holmes stories in which Watson is astounded to discover Holmes does not know the Earth goes around the sun.
“You say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.” Holmes replies after Watson makes a big deal of it. He then promises to do his best to forget the information, now that he has it.
As Holmes explains to his still-flabbergasted friend, he sees the human brain as an empty attic. As time passes, more and more things start to fill it up. If you’re careful about what you add to it and how you organise it all, your attic or mind could be very tidy and useful. However, if you’re just throwing absolutely everything in, clutter is going to build up, making it more difficult to find information when you need it.
I’m ignorant of whether modern science has vindicated Holmes’ idea, or whether it’s been proved false. Either way though, it’s something interesting to think about. Does storing up more and more and more data stored in your brain make you super knowledgeable, or does the information overload cause the opposite effect?
News channels, for example, are designed to feed you so much information at once that you can’t really register anything, and after two hours, you won’t remember nearly anything that the producers didn’t want you to remember. We’re talking about a different sort of thing, but the same idea might apply. If you’re constantly learning about absolutely everything you can, are you becoming more well-rounded, or are you just making yourself more ignorant? A jack of all trades, master of none sort of thing.
This isn’t a completely random train of thought.
I work at a call centre, at a campaign where we provide customer care for users of a certain phone service. However, the campaign has been shrunk, and I think over a hundred agents won’t be needed beyond a few weeks for now. So the call centre has been trying to move us to a brand new campaign, which I won’t talk about because I believe saying anything about your job on the Internet is the surest way to get fired, even if it’s neutral/positive stuff.
All I’ll say is, I’m excited and hope I can switch to the new line.
Anyway. I (hopefully) only have a couple weeks left at the campaign, and it’s made me think about the futility of it all. I signed my contract with the company about a year ago, almost to the day. I spent a couple of weeks in training, and a few months acclimatising and learning everything I could. By now, I would without any hesitation name myself as one of the people in all the world who know the most about the product, processes, and equipment.
It’s not bragging, I’m just really good at learning and retaining information. Which brings us to all the thinking about Sherlock Holmes and a mind attic.
I’ve spent the last 12 months of my life gathering all sorts of information. I can tell you from memory the 1-800 numbers for different customer service departments. I can recall the programming codes for all of our phones faster than I could name all my cousins. I know so many tiny details about the application process for our service, about government guidelines related to us, and company policy on just about anything you could think of.
And in a month, it’ll all be worthless.
Well, maybe not all of it, but I feel damned sure 95% of the knowledge I’ve gathered will not be useful to me even once. I’ll never again find any use for knowing that applications to our service have a barcode in the bottom left, with the state abbreviation, three digits, and then the application number. Or that customers in California have these specific phone plans, can switch to these other ones, and can use five different Android phone models. So on and so on.
I can’t just throw everything out from the attic, or hold a yard sale. I’m going to be stuck for years with that knowledge in my brain, taking up space. Is it going to hinder my ability to recall other, more useful information? I don’t know. Probably not. That always seemed like a weird idea to me, anyway.
Still. Still, still, still.
I can’t help but feel I’ve wasted a year of my life. I worked for this campaign and now… what?
Well, I have become excellent at customer service. I know how to type detailed account notes while maintaining a conversation and keeping a customer up-to-date on what I’m doing. I’ve learned how to handle EVERYTHING, from a male customer moaning as you hear a sickening constant squelching sound, to an old woman screaming because she wants to get a refund on 60 cents (Yes, both are actual examples. Fairly common ones, honestly). I’ve now got enough horror stories to entertain people for a decade.
Heck, I even got to train my voice to sound different pitches and inflections of convincingly female.
Maybe all the specific facts I’ve learned over the last year won’t be useful to me ever again, but the experience and more intangible skills I’ve picked up while I learned those facts will be with me forever.
Something to think about, at least.