Buckets and Libraries

I'd sort of like to wrap up this whole bucket and library thing somehow. Make it easier to understand. I drew a bunch of diagrams, but they just seemed to make the whole thing more complicated and the metaphor got all tangled and twisted up.

The problem is that I'm trying to describe two very different things in a single process, and they kind of don't easily meld into a single metaphor. On the one hand, I have to explain how it is that people gather information from the world around them, and that's the bucket. On the other, I have to explain how it is that people manage this information, which is the library.

So basically we have to use magic.

See, what you're carrying around with you all day is a magic bucket. And when you see things over the course of the day, what happens is you toss them in the bucket and a little elf librarian in your head writes a book about it.

Once he's written the book, he tries to put it on the shelf near similar books, but there are only so many shelves. So he decides how important this book is, and replaces a less-important book.

If there aren't any, this book doesn't go on the shelf. Instead, he just throws it on the floor. And if there's no room on the floor, he takes a bunch of the books that are already on the floor and just kicks them under the bed to make room.

Now, whenever you need to know something, you just reach in the bucket and the elf runs off to find the book about what you need to know. If it's on the shelf, he yanks it down and hands it to you. If it's on the floor, he has to hunt around for it. And if it's under the bed, he has to get down on his hands and knees with a flashlight.

Once he finds it, he runs back and writes down what you need to know from that book, then hands it up through the magic bucket.

Now, every twelve to fourteen years, that elf does a little cleaning up. He counts up how many shelves you've used on the bookshelf over the last 12-14 years, then counts up how many shelves you have available.

If you have enough for another 12-14 years (i.e. at least as many as you used before), he dusts off his hands and does nothing. But if you don't, he starts off by pulling the dustiest books off the shelf and putting them on the floor. If there's too much stuff on the floor, he kicks the dustiest stuff under the bed. And if there still aren't enough shelves, he builds more shelves.

Now, here's where things get fun. You know what makes teenagers such freaks? That elf has no idea that it's his job to make the shelves until puberty.

Until then, he just assumes the bookshelves are magic, like the bucket. He assumes you can put stuff on them forever. But then he goes "wait... this is my job." And this is also when you start learning a lot of really important stuff. So he started out thinking "this bookshelf lasts forever," and then it turns out no. He has to build the new shelves. And suddenly he doesn't want to put stuff on the shelves anymore. He wants to throw more of it on the floor and under the bed. Especially when you start running short of shelves.

See, what that elf wants is for you to hit puberty knowing half of what you can fit on the shelves, and then fill no more than half of the remaining shelves each succeeding 12-14 year period.

Sound familiar? Sound like the way most people like to stop learning after a while? Why they stop even paying attention anymore?

But when you just insistently shove things in the bucket anyway, the elf has no real choice but to build more and more and more shelves. And he gets used to it. You become accustomed to the storing and retrieving of information. He gets good at it.

So whenever you have trouble remembering something, remember that's the little elf in your head being a shithead. And be suspicious of what he hands you if it takes a while. And if you want him to be less of a shithead and deliver more reliable information, just keep filling the bucket.

This may be the weirdest post I've ever written.