Pick up a book, read an article, watch a clip from the past 200 years or so, centered on what people find admirable and there they are. "Renaissance men" - people who know a lot about a lot. The Valve employee handbook put it differently: T-shaped people, "people who are both generalists and also experts".

But while the upsides of this broad mind has been extolled and somewhat substantiated over the years, it has been mostly left unsaid how to go about it. "Go to University!" and "Just go learn what you want to do and follow your nose!" is seemingly incompatible advice.

For all of the ills of social media, for all the ways a misleading fact, fake story, damaging, made-up rumor can lap Twitter while the truth is putting its shoes on, the influx of information in our lives means that you can engage with people's experience in a way that didn't use to be possible. And I mean experience, not mere "experiences".

Just this week, I somehow absorbed information about how "stroads" are a mismatched half-way point between streets and roads, leading small areas that should remain human-scale and personable to be torn apart in an effort to look like a big city; and how open shelves should be used for things you want to display and cabinets and other storage used to put stuff away. The first doesn't affect me all that much since I'm not an urban planner (although it seems neither are many of the purported urban planners), but it addresses a vague churning in my stomach I've had when I've been to some locations that just didn't feel right to me. And the second one seems incredulously easy, but it introduced a distinction that I hadn't thought about. I can't find the link, but the architect in question pointed out that with so many naked open cubbies like the IKEA Kallax, it is a distinction that many people do not observe, and live with cluttered furniture exposing incidental objects to dust, instead of storing them safely and showcasing the things you really care about.

Work hard to make money and spend them on objects and you may hear: "you can't take it with you". In a way, the same thing is true for ideas and knowledge outside of your domain and sphere of interest; if you manage a vertical collection of Zippo lighters, at least it will be left for someone when you're gone. Given that, what good is knowing the intricasies of performing Barrier Skip when you don't speedrun Wind Waker, manufacturing Panko bread crumbs when you aren't that one company in Japan, age a flat file cabinet when you haven't negotiated a band saw in more than a decade?

You have to feed the soul too. I'm a programmer, a developer, a problem solver. I like finding out about new domains, expanding my knowledge about them, slowly get a grip on them, realize there's so much here that someone else could, and probably is, living their whole life within this domain and barely gets to call themselves an expert. If you can muscle your way past the worst parts of Dunning-Kruger, you may find an interesting spot where you simultaneously understand that there's a whole lot you don't know, and that you have a better understanding on a small part of it than you thought you ever would. That's invigorating to me.

The reason the T-shaped people are revered isn't because they had read more books than others. It's because often they could see the same thing from multiple angles. As the kids today might put it, they were full-stack - or at least multi-faceted. In a way, they were multiple people at once.

I have never quite gotten in the habit of reading books, which is ironic because of how much we all read now, all day, every day. But putting aside their use as a mechanism for control and indoctrination where it was used to narrow thinking, the traditional promise of books is to widen thinking, to carry the results of someone's research, someone's lived experiences, someone's deep thinking, through the ages, from before sewers to after personal meal delivery apps.

If you can manage to dodge the divisive, conspiratorial, resentful, regressive people who make their living telling people how much of a shame it is that it isn't the fifty years ago it never was, be those people celebrated authors in the before times or producers of sputtering self-centered video podcasts today, there are plenty of good things left.

I don't know about you, but I've been spending a lot of time worrying about the future, being crushed by increasing complexity both privately, professionally and in current world events. There's "sharpening your saw" and become better at exactly what you do. There's "turning off" by vegetating to the cheap, the mass-produced, entry-level "SEO-optimized" or corporate-approved mulch. But aside from also allowing yourself rest and disconnection, how about recognizing that something that activates, engages and challenges you can also avoid feeling instinctually like work, like your responsibility, like something you ought to fix, like details you need to commit to memory or like noise you have to endure but that never means anything.

It can be entertaining because it catches your mind off guard, in a curious, open state where it doesn't have any notion of what's happening next and doesn't feel the urge to check phone notifications. It can be instructive and give you a lesson to tuck away for the future. It can jump into your mesh of neurons and trigger a connection for a problem you've been wrestling with for months. Or it can just be pleasing to listen to or watch in a world where your own mobility is limited.

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