The joy of learning and surprise

I just read the JJ Abrams essay in the previous issue of Wired. This essay really struck home about where we get joy out of life, and how we seem so eager to overlook it. This quote sums it up for me:

"True understanding (or skill or effort) has become bothersome—an unnecessary headache that impedes our ability to get on with our lives (and most likely skip to something else). Earning the endgame seems so yesterday, especially when we can know whatever we need to know whenever we need to know it."

That is true on more levels than I can describe. While the Internet has done so much to facilitate communication and bring people together, it has also managed to trivilaize knowledge and the process of acquiring it.

I liken this to a suggestion that a friend made to me last year when I was in the midst of writing code for one of my sites. He asked, "Why don't you just use all of the free stuff out there and stictch it together to make a site?" Aside from issues of integration, I asked what I would get out of that as a developer. The "skill and effort" is important to me. Deeper understanding is important to me. It's the same reason someone may build a table instead of buying one from Ikea. Indeed, sometimes the end product is less interesting than the journey required to get there.

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