Why You Should Click On Every Link
People ask me for help a lot. Whether they think their computer has a virus or they want to learn more about SEO or they want to get involved with startups, people bring a lot of their questions to me.
And it’s great, because I love helping people and being seen as a resource for friends and coworkers. I try to make myself available for anyone who thinks I can help them. It makes me feel good knowing I saved someone else hours of frustration, and I can only assume they enjoy that outcome as well.
But it got me wondering: how did I come to be in this position? After all, I wasn’t born knowing any of this stuff. Why do so many people seek my help every day? How did I come to be perceived as omniscient?
Maybe if I discovered the magic habit or characteristic that put me in this position, I could help empower others to solve their problems more easily. I could raise my kids to become full of knowledge. I could help others learn the skills I’ve taught myself.
While I was doing some research earlier today, the answer suddenly came to me: I click on every link I find.
Well, not every link. Only a Google web crawling robot has time for that.
But whenever I read something that’s interesting, I always end up wanting to learn more. If there are links in the article, I’ll click them. If there are recommended articles at the end, I’ll read those. If the author links to their Twitter account, I’ll click through to see what else they’ve shared.
Every article that catches my eye ends up being a spring board for several more articles, and then several more.
In this way, I’ve taught myself HTML, CSS and PHP. I’ve learned about the main components of SEO and conversion optimization for websites. I’ve become a Gmail power user. I’ve downloaded all of the latest new music. I’ve heard both good and bad stories about raising venture capital. I know about the latest technologies coming to market, and ones that are still many years off.
It was through my endless curiosity – my penchant for clicking on every link – that I learned all of these things.
Unfortunately, this caused problems for awhile. I’m sure you’re familiar with the stereotype of a grungy teenager who sits on the computer all day and never leaves the house. That was me for a few years.
But eventually, I learned how to tame my curiosity. I optimize my browsing behavior so that I could soak up knowledge, and still have time for a bike ride.
I started to figure out the communities where I could find the most interesting links to click on. For me, those were mainly Twitter, Quora and Hacker News. There are several great blogs I follow religiously, but I love the variety you find in social communities.
I use Google Reader for the blogs where I have to read everything, but rely on Twitter feeds for sites with less relevant – or overly frequent – updates.
I started keeping separate browser windows for actual work and then all of the links I wanted to read. I installed a tab manager to make sure I wasn’t opening more articles than I could realistically read. I didn’t want to sign up for a service like Instapaper, since I knew I was start drowning in my backlog of interesting articles.
I also began to figure out what was actually worth knowing, and what wasn’t. Barry Mills – the president of my college – had a great quote a few weeks ago in his yearly convocation address:
…in a Google and Wikipedia world with a high degree of access to facts and information, there will be a premium on a liberal arts education that helps students learn which facts are worth knowing, what they can rely on, and how to interpret these facts.
I had become exposed to enough learning opportunities that I could begin to judge which were worthwhile and which weren’t. I was able to click fewer links, but soak up just as much knowledge.
As I started writing this, I had just finished reading a Wikipedia article about the conceptual math problem known as the “Coastline Paradox,” where coastlines appear to get longer when you measure them in increasingly smaller increments.
I found that page from a blog entry entitled “How prostitution and alcohol make Uber better” which discussed the correlation between areas with high rates of petty crimes and private limo services in those same areas. I found that article in a Tweet from HubSpot’s VP of Engineering.
I just kept clicking on things that sounded interesting.
For me, clicking on links symbolizes my endless curiosity. If every article I read leads me to click on one or more links, I’d read more and more and fill my brains with knowledge.
But it’s not just the individual facts and stories on their own that are important. As Barry mentioned, virtually all facts and stories known to humans are only a few key strokes away these days.
The great thing about clicking on links is that you begin to tie everything together.
This thought leads to that one, and then that one and the next. You begin to see how ideas all weave together. You notice trends and commonalities between two seemingly discrete topics. All it takes is a click.
Clicking links can also lead you farther outside of your comfort zone than you might normally stray. You get to read authors and analyze view points that you might not otherwise have found.
If you merely browse your Twitter stream, click on a few Tweets and then stop at those articles, you’ll only be exposed to familiar ideas. After all, if you’re following these people you must already have some sense of what they’ll be saying.
But if you follow a few links in their articles, and then a few more, you’ll find yourself exposed to ideas and concepts that you might not have thought about otherwise.
Whether they’re different stances on an issue than you’d normally see, or entirely new subjects that you’ve never been exposed to – you’re more likely to be intellectually challenged by something if you found it after clicking on several other links.
In these ways, clicking links has not only exposed me to more facts and stories, but has also helped me think on a more advanced level. It has helps me learn how to process new information and connect it with things I already know, which allows me to learn even more.
Clicking on links has rewarded my curiosity and encouraged me to reach new intellectual heights.
By always clicking on links, my mind has been allowed to wander the far corners of human thought. It’s hard to get lost out there, since familiar ground is always a few “Back” button clicks away. But it can still be an adventure.
I’d encourage you to do the same, next time you’re reading something particularly interesting. Click on at least one link in the article, and then click at least one more link from one of the secondary articles. See if you don’t learn something new, or discover something you never thought you’d discover.
It might seem overwhelming or uncomfortable at first. I know it takes a certain level of curiosity and that I happen to be an unusually curious person. But I hope that you’ll find that it becomes exciting.
There’s so much out there that we don’t even know that we don’t know. And it’s all just a few clicks away.