On the Importance of Filters

Let's kick the New Year off with a metaphor. Say you have a bucket of rocks, a bucket of gravel and a bucket of sand. You need to consolidate as much as possible into a single bucket. You'll want to start with the larger rocks. Then you'll have room for gravel to fill in the gaps and then sand to slip into the crevasses. If you start with the sand, you'll never get the rocks and gravel to fit.

Right now my reading list is mostly sand. Dozens and dozens of tiny RSS feeds. I just added about 30 anthropology blogs to the mix and that number is only going to go up. This constant stream of news is critical for staying abreast of emerging memes but it doesn't necessarily foster a deeper understanding.

The problem with all that sand is that I only have room for a couple rocks perched on top of the pile. I keep a few books on my nightstand (and really, all around my apartment) that I read roughly in parallel. I'm always adding more books to the list, but what I'm missing is the gravel.

Maybe it's obvious, but that's what magazines are.

I've been reading Print and Communication Arts since college, but my periodical selection doesn't get much more eclectic. That's a problem. Design is a synthesis of Science, Politics, Anthropology, Literature, Art, Architecture, Technology, Business, Culture... My New Year's resolution is to start casting a wider net.

I'm building an initial list based off the recommendations in The Art of the Long View by Peter Schwartz. It's a scenario planning book from the early nineties that discusses research tactics for staying informed in a world before weblogs using (among other things) honest-to-goodness paper magazines.

Some of the publications in that early-nineties snapshot, compiled by Schwartz and his network, along with their comments:

  • Discover is a popular science magazine which "has a scoop" now and then.
  • The Economist is, in my opinion, the single best source of information about what is happening the world.
  • Electric Word (later to become Wired) is about what the new technology means to our lives, from art, business, politics, culture and education, to our personal relationships.
  • Foreign Affairs, the mainstream journal of thought about international relations.
  • Granta is a book-sized journal from London of unusually perceptive, high-quality writing and thinking.
  • Harper's is a relatively mainstream magazine which is very useful for surveying the fringes, because it culls material from unusual sources.
  • The New Yorker, amazingly enough, breaks news from time to time in a very thorough way.
  • The British New Scientist has an excellent filter. Important science news will often appear here first, while it is still navigating its way out of the fringes.
  • I read the New York Times Science Section every Tuesday for its in-depth coverage of three or four important science stories.
  • Scientific American is not where I see new ideas, but where I see new ideas moving to the mainstream.
  • Technology Review is the best on social consequences of new technology.
  • Utne Reader is a digest whose editors scan thousands of small and alternative magazines.

I still occasionally flip through Print and CA, and I'm adding some other design and culture magazines to the mix like I.D., Metropolis, Dwell, Wallpaper and Surface. But there's still plenty of room to grow. What other publications should make it across a designer's desk?

I try to make time for the following...

The Believer
The Economist
Business Week
Technology Review
(getting harder to find)

I don't always manage it.

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