This was written in response to a comment in the previous entry; it started to get long, so I figured "Why not make give it a home?"
Learn Meaningful Things Before You Remember
Supermemo is only as useful as the knowledge you put into it. If something is put into Supermemo, it should somehow be useful to your existence. If you fill Supermemo with things that are irrelevant to you, then a great deal of satisfaction will go away.
In the past, I have created a number of "test collections," filling them with a considerable amount of flashcards. Usually they are made up of big collections of Chinese and Spanish vocabulary words, science charts, etc. I had no prior encounter with the knowledge in these flashcards, I saw them for the first time in Supermemo. Also, I didn't really care about the knowledge itself. This was simply an experiment, "something to do."
Generally I found these collections to be frustrating and easy to forget. In time those collections were either abandoned altogether or "absorbed" after a great deal of time (and struggle, for I got them wrong many times).
I learned first hand that if I didn't spend time learning what I was trying to remember, Supermemo is a waste of time. Something must be learned first, then remembered later.
Which Wastes More Time?
As far as how much time is required to use Supermemo, compared to traditional systems of learning, Supermemo saves a great deal of time. This is because a majority of traditional learning entails cramming until a test, then forgetting the material after the test. Many hours and a great deal of stress is spent, with nothing to show for it but a receipt (In the form of some certificate, diploma, report card, etc.) that proves to the world you can spend many hours cramming and passing a test. It has proved to be a very inefficient system for most cases.
Rather than being a tool for short-term cramming, Supermemo works to ensure the long-term stability of your memories. The more one "outsources" their studying and remembering to Supermemo, Supermemo becomes more and more of a way of life. When you are making flashcards, or rewording and refining flashcards, THIS CONSTITUTES STUDYING; the very act of adding and refining flashcards MEANS that you are learning new things. This doesn't mean that you are wasting time, it means you are making progress.
For right now we have no choice but to deal with the constraints placed upon us by a flawed educational system. Still, Supermemo can help to soften the blow dealt by such a system. Much like trying to eat a three-course dinner in a brief span of time, schools expect one to process a great deal of material in a short amount of time. Because schools are obsessed with only the short-term results, long-term retention isn't viewed as the gigantic loss that it truly is.
If the amount of material is too great, one possibility is that you could cram the traditional way and and process the information in Supermemo after the test is over. Not an ideal solution, but we're not working in ideal circumstances.
Usefulness of Knowledge
In regards to the usefulness of knowledge, it is very true that knowledge itself carries no value until it is acted upon. The APPLICATION of knowledge should be the eventual goal of acquiring knowledge.
Rather than try to articulate this point, I would feel better pointing you to an article on the Supermemo site: "http://www.supermemo.com/articles/devour.htm"
One of the main points is that 'Skills require learning, which requires knowledge. Learning does not have to be a process that simply occurs as time goes on, but technology can make learning into more of a controlled and conscious process.'
In regards to valuing knowledge when encountered in incremental reading, it is not necessary to determine the absolute value of information on first contact. You merely have to highlight and extract information that MIGHT be valuable. The real value will be determined as you review the information over the coming days and weeks. If deadlines or your circumstances require that you immediately go from reading to making flashcards (Therefore determining the value of information right away), that is certainly an option, but by no means a requirement.
Your comment also smacks upon a very core principle (Which I don't think I've posted on here): "What makes you happy?" While I very much enjoy learning, what matters most to me is connecting with other people. Absolute knowledge and principles are not subject to change and are predictable by nature, but PEOPLE possess such a wide spectrum of emotion and can express themselves in an infinite number of UNPREDICTABLE ways. The simple act of conversation, the exchange of ideas, the unique perspective, the humor, everything that ensues can be such a delightful and stimulating experience! While I enjoy learning new ideas, I enjoy discussing those ideas with others (Possibly more than the act of learning itself).
What information do I incrementally process? I work part time so I can pursue my own interests, so it is not necessary to incrementally read for my job; most of the learning I do is because of my own curiosity and interests. I enjoy understanding how things work. Even though certain pieces of knowledge are not very applicable in the real world (For example, understanding how owls are able to hear and determine where sounds are coming from), this brings order to the unknown, and this act brings a certain satisfaction and happiness.
But I must confess, the most valuable and enlightening information I have incrementally processed would have to be my ongoing study of the various works of philosophy, religion and science.
It is my goal to hear any meaningful attempt to answer the basic questions of life and purpose. I might not like some of the answers I find, I might not even agree with them, but the least I can do is understand that different perspective and make an informed decision about whether any theory, way of life, etc. is good or not.
It is my personal belief that the true meaning of life should not be determined by pandering to emotion, petty fear-mongering, pious self-righteousness/arrogance, etc., but rather it should be firmly rooted in knowledge and rationality. If there is a tao (道 - "Road," or "Way") of knowledge, rationality and wisdom, that's where I want to be.