The Renaissance is over...

As I begin to decide what I will do when I return to work, I am torn between the desire to follow my various creative pursuits but still create for myself a comfortable lifestyle, push myself to do something "meaningful" for society rather than just dabble aimlessly, and lastly, work at a level where I feel I am pushing myself. I struggle with how to take my constantly evolving interests and push them into something worthwhile...

I pride myself on being talented at many things, but I know I am an expert at nothing. I aspire for the top few percentiles, but grow bored after that. The pursuit of novelty always has more allure than the pursuit of running deep down some intellectual tunnel (maybe it's just competition with those around me though)... But in any event, it's a strange feeling knowing I am better than most people I will personally encounter, but many times worse than the best in a given field. It's an even more unsettling feeling that what I know/do doesn't count for much of anything in today's world.

In centuries past, being a renaissance man used to be a good thing. Many great men come to mind.... my favorites are Da Vinci, Edison and Thomas Jefferson. Men who spanned several disciplines and were held in high esteem in each. But then, the barriers to entry were much lower. A man could spend a year or two in detailed study and make relatively significant discoveries. More importantly, they could comfortably support themselves given how the world worked.

Now, without significant experience in a particular discipline, an individual can quickly be reduced to a simple hourly worker. It seems a phd is simply a good starting point for study. The world has changed so much. When I visited Monticello, Jefferson had one of the largest libraries in the country and it had, maybe, a few hundred books. Information was not widely disseminated and there wasn't much of it recorded to begin with anyway. I would bet on any given day, more informational content (youtube, emails, blogs, research, books, film, radio) is produced than was created in a decade just several generations ago. And each day's information is more than an individual could hope to understand in a lifetime. It seems with each new idea I have, I can simply search for it, and find dozens of books on the topic written by men who have spent an entire lifetime wrestling with the very idea I came across. There are few things that kill my interest in a topic than knowing that there isn't anything I can bring to the table. So I usually just give up and look for something else where I can add value.

The internet also raises the bar for what is valued in society, and what is interesting. Just a few decades crowds could be entertained by a man who could juggle a few balls on the street. Now with YouTube, every talent has to be compared with the best that the entire world has to offer rather than what a given audience would have the chance to encounter in their daily lives. In the past, you could have thousands of people doing the same thing simultaneously and all be equally appreciated. Now it seems like everything elicits the response "I've seen that on facebook/YouTube/tv before." I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing. I appreciate the much higher levels of skill and creativity that this promotes. I also enjoy how it can easily match people up.... buyers and sellers, job hunters and job seekers.. post a resume in Portland and get a job in Miami.... It's definitely, on the whole, a net positive... but it does make a very interesting challenge for people like me, who just want to sample out what the world has to offer.

Just trying to figure out how to use what I have....