I love science content, especially Scishow. The internet is providing us with more than a lifetime of information about any topic we could come up with. You can find scientifically proven answers to a question no one asked and some no one should be asking. (like: Are full or empty beer bottles sturdier and does their fracture-threshold suffice to break the human skull?)
But how does that benefit you? Is all information equal? Does it matter how we use information?
As a kid, I couldn’t get enough of nature documentation and today I love Scishow. I don’t regret a single minute I spent on those. But the truth is: I don’t remember a lot. I also can’t remember a single time the knowledge was actually useful for more than (unsuccessfully)bragging a bit here and there.
On the other hand, I did some online courses on statistics. I didn’t like them. They were hard. They hurt. I had to force myself. But I still know what a median or a standard deviation is and why both are useful.
These examples are all just ones of videos conferring information. I wouldn’t ask anyone to stop any of those, but there is a huge difference isn’t there?
Let’s see another example:
I watch a lot of news. I do it, even if it upsets me a lot. The information feels important. But actually nothing in there has ever gained me any advantage in life. Nothing of that was asked in a job interview and nothing of it has helped me to solve a difficult problem at work. Except when I searched for news about patches to roll out, or the next big conference incoming. There is definitely a hint there.
I also did a lot of online courses. It was sometimes fun and sometimes not. Not all of them were that useful, but most of them were. Especially since I choose them to fit the Certificate and knowledge I wanted. Interestingly there was one course I started just out of curiosity. (Linear algebra foundation) I thought I might need it but I didn’t have a use case in mind and nothing really stuck. There’s another hint there.
There is a huge difference in why we are searching for the information
So if I’m merely interested or stumble over random information, nothing really sticks. Nothing of that helps with any problem. But if I do search for something specific things happen. Interesting.
Information without specific context and use case is informational and won’t be remembered very long. It also doesn’t help you solve real-life problems, except by some rare coincidence. This is informational.
Information with a specific context and use case will stay in memory longer. It can help solve real problems and improve your career and personal life. This is educational.
So the same information can be educational or informational. It matters why we are consuming it. Nice. But there is more.
Let’s search for a way to build muscle. It’s a common question and there are many different sources. There are some nice 2 to 10-minute Scishow videos about it and I urge you to watch them. The information is presented very well and you will clearly learn a lot from them. Educational right?
After watching them hit the gym immediately and start doing what exactly? You know you should do weight lifting, and maybe have an idea about an exercise or two, but are you sure you could come up with a complete training plan after a 10-minute video? Do you know what to eat? Protein right? So Chicken all day? But vegetables are healthy. Do you have recipes in mind? And now your wrist hurts after training. Should you stop, should you change your form? What is the right form anyway?
After the video, you felt well informed and motivated. That’s good. But the practice reveals an inherent shallowness of the information. What if you instead did some training with a personal trainer. Meal plan, training plan and hands-on advice for 3 months. That would be hard and a huge commitment of time and effort, but you wouldn’t have to ask yourself the same questions as before would you? And what would the results look like? Wouldnt your form be spot on? Wouldnt you have a much better foundation of your knowledge?
So we found a new hint.
Some information is inherently shallow and broad, education is deep.
So sorry Scishow, but a 4-minute video hardly qualifies as educational. It can only give a glimpse of Information to get you started with a topic. This is a good thing, but must not be confused.
So should we avoid informational content? No Scishow? Please no!
There is one thing that we are still missing though.
After all, I could (ok I DO) binge watch Scishow videos all day, but can only have so much statistics before my head feels like a squeezed out lemon.
Informational content can be relaxing, education is work
I say “can be” because the news is not relaxing for me while a documentation is. This is a big one. You can’t learn all day and if it helps you relax and feels good you should have your go on informational content. There is nothing better than watching “Should we kill all mosquitos?” while eating cookies. (Hint: We could, but we shouldn’t. Kill all mosquitos I mean, cookies are always a yes!)
Also, it can be useful:
Both, educational and informational content spark creativity
If you want to be creative, you can’t just focus on one topic. You can’t stay within the boundaries of content related to your career or immediate interests. As we already mentioned, educating yourself about something without immediate need might not lead to results as you forget the information fast and narrow your attention down again to one topic. You need broad and diverse input. And hey, that’s the definition of informational right?
So how do we get that?
A long evening of watching Hank Green and friends talking about random Science. Cheers!