I have been in IT for 30 years now, so perhaps I can offer some perspective. Yes, there is an increasing amount of material to keep abreast of. But the rate of change (as in “progress”) is not increasing – if anything, it is decreasing. What we are seeing is a widening of the field.
Take a simple example: Once upon a time there was HTML/1. Then came HTML/2 and that was progress. Now we have HTML/4, HTML/5, XHTML/1, Flash, Silverlight, and on and on. Any one of these is progress, but each is progress in a different direction and all are in active use.
Stay on top of this? Forget it – it’s not possible. On the other hand, good IT folks can pick up a new language or a new technology in a few weeks at most – no big deal. Try to pick out the genuinely new ideas and learn about them. Ignore all the specific technologies (IIS 7, SQL Server 2008, etc.) unless and until you need them.
Continuing the Internet as an example, the last real innovation were the ideas behind Web 2.0. I took the opportunity to learn Ruby at the same time – did a couple of small, throw-away projects in Ruby on Rails. If a project in this area comes along, the ideas will be the same in whatever environment.
One does occasionally get frustrated. It’s not always easy to pick out the truly new ideas amidst all the marketing hype.
All the best…
Attend conferences and local user group meetings, get on twitter and start following a bunch of folks. Join or start up a mailing list (google groups is my favorite provider, Yahoo groups aren’t half bad either) in your area to discuss issues.
Propose a talk at your local DNUG to have someone do a quick overview of all these new technologies or maybe have an open discussion/lightning talk where people stand up and give 5-10 minutes on their favorite new technology.
In short: Get out there and talk and share with people. It’s the only way you’ll stay on top of everything. You can’t do it by yourself unless you don’t sleep and don’t work.
I find myself worrying about missing the boat on something from time to time but when I actually sit down and learn some hot new technology I find that it’s primarily a new combination of fundamental technologies I’ve already seen.
My appoach is to make sure I have a good grasp of algorithms, data structures, communication protocols, some hardware knowledge and general engineering skills.