The Wisdom of Middle Age

The first thing I did upon turning 40 was run my first marathon. It was my way of saying "I'm not ready to slow down." Of course, it will be difficult to keep up the pace. Our bodies largely decline with age.

But that's not true of our brains. Despite widely-held beliefs to the contrary, modern neuroscience suggests that we're smarter (creativity, judgment, pattern recognition) between 40 and 65 than we were in our twenties.


In The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain, Barbara Strauch offers a multi-disciplinary survey of the scientific literature. Highlights include:

In four out of six categories tested - vocabulary, verbal memory, spatial orientation, and, perhaps most heartening of all, inductive reasoning - people performed best, on average, between the ages of forty to sixty-five.
Sometime in middle age we begin to develop the ability, when faced with a perplexing problem, to use both sides of our brain instead of one. This bilateralization is part of the reason we begin to see the big, connected picture.
As we age, the two sides of our brains become more intertwined, letting us see bigger patterns, have bigger thoughts...that's why age is such an advantage in fields like editing, law, medicine and coaching and management.
Exercise has emerged as the closest thing we have to a magic wand for the brain...Neurogenesis is not an event, it's a process. And, there's no question, physical activity makes new brain cells proliferate.

So, I'm looking forward to becoming a better information architect as I grow older and wiser. Of course, it's unlikely I'll ever run a faster marathon, which is why I'm trying my first Olympic distance triathlon next weekend. Apparently, we not only get smarter with age, but we also grow crazier.

Strange Connections

I'm also looking forward to User Focus 2011 (9/16) in Washington, DC.

Mark your calendars: February 11, 2012 is the first ever World IA Day.

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Stubborn Obliviousness

Grant Campbell, one of the smartest observers of and participants in the information architecture community, has written a short, deep, inspiring article about Being Shallow. Here's an excerpt:

Information architecture at its best is not about the cool, the newest, or the latest. Information architecture is about the breath, the pause, the stillness in the eye of the information hurricane.

The article is playful yet profound. More importantly, it gives us permission to nurture our own stubborn obliviousness. Thanks Grant!

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Research Beyond Google

For librarians, teachers, and parents frustrated by students' fast food approach to information consumption, Research Beyond Google is a very useful guide to "119 Authoritative, Invisible, and Comprehensive Resources."

Since information that's hard to find will remain information that's hardly found, the only reasonable approach is to improve the findability of high quality content. So, if someone would create a Google Custom Search with these 119 resources, like Peter Van Dijck's, then we'd be all set!

Strange Connections

Neighboroo gets my vote for mashup of the day.

A provocative perspective on Ambient Findability.

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Defining Authority

I didn't set out to write a book about authority, but this topic emerged as one of the most intriguing themes. I became fascinated by the shift from traditional sources of authority such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Oxford English Dictionary, and the Wall Street Journal towards the collective intelligence embodied in the Wikipedia.

In fact, I found myself relying on the Wikipedia as an invaluable reference tool, alongside such authorities as Nature, Scientific American, and Harvard Business Review. And I ended up singing the praises of the collective intelligence embedded in heavily edited Wikipedia articles, and arguing:

"Like relevance, authority is subjective and ascribed by the viewer."

And when it came time to solicit advance praise, I naturally asked Jimmy Wales, founder of the Wikipedia. So, imagine my surprise when I received an email from Jimmy in which he flat out disagreed with my definition of authority. In short, he stated that authority is objective, and that the Wikipedia is just plain better and more authoritative than Britannica.

We had an interesting debate via email (which I promised not to publish) and we both ended up where we started. Since then, I've had little time to dig into this subject. Beyond this post about the nature of authority by Clay Shirky, I haven't found much.

So, what do you think? Is authority subjective or objective? What role is findability playing in changing our sources of authority? And where can we go to learn more about authority? Thanks!

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You Are Here

Welcome to the next generation. In case you haven't noticed, it's a borg. I mean, it's a blog. Yes, after years of quiet resistance, I've succumbed to the call of the blogosphere. I've been assimilated.

In blogging, my most transparent and prosaic goal is to promote my new book, Ambient Findability. I've poured blood, sweat, and tears into this strange text, so I won't be shy about inviting folks to read it.

That said, I'm hoping this blog will go beyond the book. As my classification scheme hints, I'll be writing about authority, business, culture, design, search, ubicomp, etc. And let's not forget the oft-maligned category of miscellaneous. I very much reserve the right to write about seemingly random topics.

So, if you want the original findability, it's there but not here. And if you like this new place, please come again, or better yet, leave a piece of yourself behind.

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