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Getting Away from the Daily Digital Noise: A List of Time-tested Classics

Getting Away from the Daily Digital Noise: A List of Time-tested Classics

Books

    FriendFeed, Twitter, email, Skype, Messenger, Blackberries and iPhones, blogs and e-zines.

    It’s all a little bit overwhelming sometimes, right? We’ve looked again and again at various ways to escape the barrage of online content so we can get more work done – but never so we can take a break and reconnect with other content. Perhaps, the kind that comes under the category of “literature.”

    Let’s face facts; there is some great content online, but there’s more rubbish. At least when you pick up a book in a bookstore, you know it’s been through a rigorous editorial process and most of the rubbish has been weeded out. Evidently, the keyword here is ‘most’ – just the other day I was at one of those huge chain bookstores where I noticed they were still selling copies of Dianetics!

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    While we are always in pursuit of the perfect way to manage and minimize our content intake, somewhat like the diet-crazed society of the second millennium, it’s important to realize that just as with food, quality is more important than quantity. If we cut down on the noise but have no signal, then there’s no point trying to begin with.

    And almost like the blogs in your feed reader, the bestseller list in the bookstore is constantly changing. But what if we had a collection of classics that have stood the test of time to prove their worth that could keep the signal high and the noise low? Here is one take on what that list might look like, bearing in mind that it would be hard to agree on and create a list that could be considered complete.

    Homer’s The Iliad & The Odyssey

    Homer’s works are sometimes considered introductory and prerequisite into the world of classic literature, and since they’re not light reading, you may as well start on a full stomach. An embodiment of the literature of ancient Greece, considered to be the forefather of modern Western thought, these epic poems speak through heroes to deliver very different messages. The Iliad, the story of Achilles, is about strength and brute force. The Odyssey is about a hero who relies on his mind, despite his strength, to win his battles.

    Plato, the Great Philosopher

    Perhaps one of the most often referenced philosophers of all time, Plato wrote important works that were often delivered through a dialogue in which a particular concept or issue was explored, in the style of his teacher Socrates. Plato’s works are broad-ranging, discussing everything from whether virtues can be taught, to the nature of justice.

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    Aristotle

    If you thought Plato had covered a varied list of topics, his student, Aristotle probably went further – in one treatise exploring biology and in another, aesthetics or politics. Aristotle was trained in medicine before he became a student of philosophy, so it’s understandable that where Plato put more importance in ideas, conceptualization, reason and intellect, Aristotle saw the world as physical reality, that can be dissected and researched. He was probably the grandfather of modern scientific bureaucrats – if it can’t be labeled by science, it doesn’t exist!

    The Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

    Moving on from the Greek era, Aurelius was a Roman Emperor who, in the inherent spare time that come with positions of high office, was also a writer. Machiavelli called him the last of the Five Good Emperors (theorizing that those who adopted the throne usually ran a good government, while those who inherited it ran a bad one). In his Meditations, written as a form of introspection for the sake of his own self-improvement, Aurelius promotes ideas such as that of human freedom and that virtue is to live in accord with nature.

    Perhaps most importantly is Aurelius’ idea that what makes us human is our mortality.

    The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer

    Some of the most famous storytelling of the medieval era is that of Geoffrey Chaucer, not so long ago revived in the movie A Knight’s Tale (in which Chaucer is made a character). The movie is based on The Knight’s Tale, the second tale from The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stores written in poetry and prose. Some scholars contend that this is the work that marked the tipping point when English overtook French as the Western world’s primary literary language.

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    Machiavelli’s The Prince

    In our latte-sipping, iPhone-swinging world Machiavelli would’ve had one heck of a scented resume, wearing a multitude of hats – diplomat, philosopher, musician, poet and playwright, and a central figure in the Italian Renaissance. He is best known for his classic work The Prince. It explores Machiavelli’s ideas on political theory, which place a high priority on maintaining stability above all else. A book on politics, theory, and practicality that the clever can apply to many areas of their lives – including productivity.

    The Bard, William Shakespeare

    As soon as I mentioned classic literature you saw this name coming; Shakespeare is either synonymous with it, or he is it! Shakespeare wrote tragic love stories in the masterpiece that has become a modern cliche for romance – Romeo and Juliet – and slapstick in works such as The Comedy of Errors. While he wasn’t the icon he is today while he was still alive, Shakespeare remains relevant because it was written timelessly; at one level or another, his plays are about humanity and its nature.

    Milton’s Paradise Lost

    John Milton was a civil servant for England in the 16th century on one hand, but on another a writer of poet and prose. He condemned censorship, a problem then and now, in Areopagitica, but his most famous work is the epic Paradise Lost. In this book Milton romanticized the fallen angel and looked at the ancient story from a different perspective, the character Lucifer becoming a big influence on Byron’s characterizations. For the modern reader who is looking for material that assists in the field of personal development, this book could provide some food for thought on the topics of individuality and freedom.

    War and Peace by Tolstoy

    Bemoaned for its length, which is epic in and of itself, War and Peace was written by Russian writer and count Leo Tolstoy, and is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of literature (like everything else in this list). War and Peace has broad and sweeping themes of giant proportion including, of course, war and peace, as well as other facts of life; aging, youth, and relationships. It is unique from many of the other Western classics presented since it came from a Russian count, and a totally different culture.

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    These are only a few classics that are part of a very long history of deserving titles, but these are some of the most well-respected in history – not to mention more than enough to get you started and keep you busy for a long while.

    And when you’re done, you can fire up that feed reader again!

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    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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