The most important change by far to have taken place during my lifetime is the coming of the "Information Age". The ability to store and distribute almost limitless quantities of information has touched every aspect of our economic, social and personal lives. When I was young, my "information dream" was to own and be surrounded by a full set of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and now such a dream sounds childish. The half a million topics covered by the Britannica are dwarfed by the trillions of references instantly available on the Internet. But this state of information plenty comes at a cost as the problems related to a shortage of information are replaced by the problems associated with a surfeit of information. So how can we cope in a world where simply Googling "Cabbage Soup" brings up 1,690,000 results? I would suggest that there are three possible strategies for coping with information overload.
Let's call the first strategy the "Macro Approach" or the "WikiWorld Approach". In this strategy you cope with information excess by picking out "the best of", or the most relevant, or even the worst of. You boil the raw information liquid and distill out those elements that are seen as the most important or noteworthy. There is nothing wrong with such a strategy, indeed it is an essential approach that can quickly and effectively provide us with an overview of whatever we may want to know. Thus one easy way of understanding West Yorkshire is to actually go to the Wikipedia reference and you will quickly get an overall impression of what the area is like.
Let us call the second strategy the "Micro Approach". Again this is a more than valid approach to information excess and an approach that has provided us with some of the most important benefits of the "Information Age" In this approach we use a microscope rather than a wide-angle lens and we focus down on detail. Google Street Cam allows us to travel down most of the highways and byways of the developed world and sites like Geograph encourage people to contribute to a growing database of distinctly local information. Blogging has made a significant contribution to this micro approach and there are many excellent blogs which enrich our knowledge and understanding of local areas and issues.
A third strategy, I would suggest, is chance or randomness and it is this approach that particularly interests me. Letting chance be your satnav when navigating the Internet has several advantages. It potentially shows you things you might not see otherwise, it rids you of preconceived assumptions, and it can help you to identify connections that are not otherwise obvious. There used to be a site called "Mystery Google" which is sadly no longer available. The idea was that whatever search term you typed into the search engine you would be presented with the results of someone else's search (if you searched for "cabbage soup" you would get a list of results for a search, for example, for "watering cans"). There is something which instinctively appeals to me about such an approach because in turns the potentially stale process of information gathering into an adventure.
And it was therefore chance that was to be the main driving force behind my investigation of my native county of West Yorkshire. And with that I was able to move on to the second square my random number generator sent me to : Thimble Stones on the top of Ilkley Moor.