Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Data! Data! Data! Data! Data! Data! Data! Data! Data! (SIgh.)

My Google newsfeed pulled in an article from The Daily Beast today that its engines seemed to think had something to do with Sherlock Holmes.

Sure, the headline read "The Best Apps for Developing Sherlock Holmes-Like Reading Skills," and there was a stock photo of a ridiculous person with a deerstalker and magnifying glass, which makes me think the headline was written purely because the photo was in hand. The little blog post of an article made no mention of Holmes in its content, and seemed mostly concerned with running as much information through your head as possible on a daily and weekly basis.

An analysis of Sherlock Holmes's reading skills, sadly, is nowhere to be found. And that is truly sad, because if I remember correctly, a Sherlockian or two has made a case for him being somewhat illiterate based on all the times he had Watson read something for him.

(The first Sherlock Holmes-like reading skill that the article then misses is simply: Have Watson read stuff out loud for you.)

One wonders if the author really understands what reading fiction is about, as he seems to think apps that either email you one page of a book a day or 20-to-30 pages of two books each month are going to let you lose yourself in the characters and lands provided. Any book that doesn't inspire you to read at a greater pace than that probably isn't worth your time, and you're probably just forcing it down because "it's s'posed to be good for you" as a notable commercial waif once remarked about Life cereal.

(The second Sherlock Holmes-like reading skill that the article misses: Don't worry about fiction unless it's your room-mates romanticized accounts of your own life. Which means it's not really fiction, right?)

But the largest thing the piece completely overlooks, which is why I think Sherlock was just trotted out for the sake of a headline and a photo to pull some mouse-clicks in, is that classic Holmes "brain-attic" analogy. You know the one . . . .

"I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it."

We live in a world where the data flow is more intense than Sherlock Holmes could ever have imagined. But even in the Victorian era there was an entire British Museum full of information that a man could have spent his entire life trying to take in . . . and failing. Holmes knew that selectivity was a key component of a knowledgeable man, and that still holds true, moreso than ever, today.

(And the third Sherlock Holmes-like reading skill that got missed by said article: Well, everything else. Apparently the apps that dole out pages like rations on short supply haven't got around to handing the writer any actual Sherlock yet.)

Unfortunately, new technology hasn't quite caught up with Sherlock Holmes just yet, or maybe Google  News wouldn't be trying to pawn off this latest Beast article as something a Sherlockian wants in his brain-attic.


  1. Damn you! You made me curious so I went and read that terrible article about "actionable knowledge" and the "benefits of reading fiction". gah!

  2. Perhaps this is the downside of our 21st century Holmes boom and the flip side to your previous post. In a Cumberbatchy, 24/7 digital world with terabytes of virtual space to fill, "just add Sherlock" to generate hits (or book sales as you pointed out in "Pick your own reality . . . it may not be mine") maybe the price we pay for a bigger pond. Time to buy stronger filters. And you were worried about kids emulating Miller's tattoos.