Reclaiming My Time
The people will not revolt. They will not look up from their screens long enough to notice what’s happening.
George Orwell, 1984
I'm overwhelmed — by content. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, the term “information overload” has been around since the 1960’s and the internet has only accelerated our access to content. We're inundated by content wherever we go, willingly so in most cases. We can't go a minute without listening to music, reading a tweet, checking the news. Worst of all, we convince ourselves that it's ok, and that it makes us better people. In a world with infinite content and limited time, the most difficult problem has gone from finding great content to curating it.
A well-balanced life is a healthy life. Contrary to popular belief, you can have too much of a good thing. In fact, gluttony is possibly the biggest sin of our times. Just because cereal can be "part of a complete breakfast” doesn’t mean you should have four bowls of Lucky Charms. With never-ending access to a near-infinite amount of the greatest content humanity has ever created, how can we say no? Without outside guidance, we have to focus our effort on maintaining our own information diets.
Falling In Love With Content
The year was nineteen diggity two and the depression hadn't hit yet. Or maybe it was around 2009 or so, it's hard to remember exactly when I discovered RSS. I stumbled upon a never-ending stream of articles written and recommended by people who were clearly my intellectual superiors. It was fascinating to walk in their footsteps, to understand how they were thinking, to live through their eyes.
To many Twitter is a real time RSS feed with a social graph attached. It is also the most malleable technology product I know of. Your experience is completely in your hands to shape, and the breadth of content is near infinite. I chose to use Twitter long before working there, and created a similar experience to RSS, only centered around people instead of articles.
Podcasts are an audio manifestation of RSS. A cross between the directness of Twitter and the thought-out nature of a blog post. They are the literal interpretation of giving a voice to your favorite content. And they're easy to consume; you don't even have to read. (Congratulations on making it this far by the way.)
There’s no feeling like the initial rush of finding a person with new or interesting view points. And in turn, I decided to give them headspace. I would follow them on Twitter, start reading their blog, and listen to their podcasts. This exposed me to a wide variety of thinking. It allowed me to understand their perspectives. It taught me about topics I'd never thought much about: economics, philosophy, behavior psychology, and how it all blends into the world we see before us.
Once I understood someone's line of thinking, I became attached. The idea of removing someone from my digital life was scary. I knew that I would miss their perspective. But I also knew that I needed to move on; I didn't have enough mental capacity to track everything everyone interesting does, and so I felt overwhelmed. Although it took a while to admit it to myself, the lessons I've learned from these people would stick around forever.
I don't regret my consumption. The lessons I've learned will be carried with me through the rest of my life. I learned to make coherent arguments. I learned to look at problems through different lenses. I learned the joy of seeing another person's perspective. Most importantly, all the learning made me feel rewarded as a human being.
I didn’t want to halt my consumption entirely, but I needed to cut down, to free up my personal bandwidth. The fear of missing out drove me to think I would miss out, but I had to trust that some content would be enough. Now when I find someone new to follow, I decide to pick whatever medium feels most appropriate for the content. This lets me hear their voice in the way most suited to them, and frees up space for other people.
I don’t have a one-size-fits-all answer for improving content consumption. The process is a continuous one. I find out what changes make me happy, what makes me unhappy, and it gets a little better all the time.
I still read a ton of blogs, probably too many for my own good, but now I don’t read them right away. I give myself a little more time to decide whether I want to read something before I read it. I add blog posts to my Pocket queue and give them a day or two to sit there. If an article still looks interesting, then I’ll give it a read. If it doesn’t, now I don’t feel so guilty about throwing it away, there’s surely something else that will fill that space.
This process is intentionally slower and more deliberate. Just because an article jumps out at me initially doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good. A benefit of this is that I’m more thoughtful about what content I consume. I also find myself getting better at identifying content that is likely to be evergreen and valuable, versus something that’s just attention grabbing.
I look back and realize that without leaving space for others in the content I consumed, I was resorting to this same pattern of all or none thinking. Rather than allowing myself to be bored for a moment, I chose to allow myself to feel overwhelmed.
You can do it too
- Unfollow that person on Twitter.
- Stop reading that blog.
- Unsubscribe from that podcast.
- Give yourself a little time to digest.
Leave some space for boredom and serendipity. Serendipity needs space to grow. Also read a damn book or two.
Joe Fabisevich is an indie developer creating software at Red Panda Club Inc. while writing about design, development, and building a company. Formerly an iOS developer working on societal issues @Twitter.
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