I started thinking about content discovery in earnest just before college. The thought of settling on a major was difficult for me. In an age of hyper-specialization, picking an area of concentration is not a decision to be taken lightly. From my perspective, it seemed silly that I should pick a single field within which to focus my learning when I didn’t even know enough about anything to make that decision.
I ended up picking philosophy (and eventually added international relations) because I wanted opportunities for broad learning. Within the philosophy concentration, one could take classes on philosophy of mathematics, of language, of mind, as well as political philosophy or moral philosophy. Everything was strongly grounded in logic and epistemology. Philosophy turned out to be a great fit. However, I was afraid I was missing out on interesting subject matters in adjacent fields.
So to allay my own concerns, I changed my study habits. I tried to do most of my assigned reading in the various libraries scattered around the campuses where I studied. I would read in a different section every week. When I got bored from reading philosophy, I could take a break and browse the shelves around me. My favorite spot was in the basement of the law library at Syracuse University, where all the legal journals and books on public policy were shelved. I also really loved the northwest reading room of the New College Library at Oxford.
Additionally, I made study-buddies out of friends with different majors. At intervals, I could start a discussion with my companion, ask her what she was learning and thinking about, or strike up a conversation about her field. I ended up learning a tremendous amount about public health, education, economic policy, natural history and journalism.
The final and most enduring way in which I supplemented my assigned learning was with voracious Web browsing. I started consuming content on the sites of major news sources, and wherever I saw mentioned a major study by a think tank or report by a government agency, I’d look up the study or report, the authors and their employers. I sought out news sources from foreign countries, the think tanks they cited, and repeated the process. Copy-pasting text into Google became my minor. In that way, I learned a lot more about my world.
Thankfully, 10 years later, we have automated tools for this sort of thing.
Kevin Selhi is an Account Manager in Partner Development at Outbrain. He and his wife Christine (pictured above) live in Brooklyn.