Late-night sleepy ramblings; please do not read :p
I have been taking a break, and it has helped me gain some perspective. Or so I thought.
Like some who might be reading this, I subscribe to a large number of blogs. Google Reader says 106 subscriptions, but a few of them are aggregators which combine the updates from several blogs.
For about three months (since June 10th, I think), I have not been reading them, nor reading the news. I’m not exactly sure why… it started as a day’s break (which was a big deal), then became four days (which was an even bigger deal), then it got easier and easier. Probably, I thought I was taking a break from (parts of) the internet in order to catch up with (parts of) my life. It didn’t work, of course. I merely found other sinks in which to dump my time. (I spent more time on Wikipedia than ever before, read more actual books than I had in the last couple of years, and so on.)
I did, however, discover a couple of things.
One is that Google Reader stops updating the count of unread items at “1000+”. (It also automatically marks items more than 30 days old as read, and, as I have “only” about 1500 items a month, I don’t know if it counts to “2000+”.)
The other is some general observations about what our lives have become.
It seems that the meanings of words like “recreation” have become somewhat quaint. Now “entertainment” is not always something to indulge in because one requires relaxation, or because it is a rewarding pursuit in itself, but simply “because it’s there”.
This can be traced, if not further, to the 19th century, when economic forces encouraged the publishing of the serial novel — the precursor to the modern-day soap opera. Thus was born the phenomenon wherein we partake of entertainment not when we desire it, but simply to avoid possible future “missing out” on enjoyment — with the pleasure comes the pressure to keep up, to “stay with it”. A periodic stream of offerings promising to entertain us, but also threatening us that if we don’t succumb, all future pleasures from that direction shall be denied to us. Thus are we enslaved by entertainment.
And so-called information we get from our daily blog servings is very much entertainment of the same sort to many of us. As illuminating as it may appear, I think it is not a productive use of one’s time to attempt to gain anything from these superficial nibblings, when there’s no time to think, to chew over the insights, let alone digest them. Thoughts raised and not pursued to a satisfactory (partial) conclusion crowd each other out and are not pleasant to carry around.
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
What’s good is all this noise that you get thrown at you? Yes, all your favourite bloggers write well, but do they write better than your favourite authors? Yes, it might be good to know what’s going on in the world, but how much of it is going to have a useful effect on you, and how much of it is going to numb you? Do we really need to sit through all the same shit every time a famous person dies, or does anything? If something is important enough for you to need to know, it will reach you somehow anyway.
Also, if you read too much about something, you can start thinking it’s important. A greater danger is that by choosing predictable sources that only say what we want them to say, we’re only succumbing to homophily, which brings with it groupthink and the usual set of cognitive ills.
The funny thing is, “normal” people don’t have this problem. They do manage to prioritise, to be aware of the effects and so on. Or they simply have less to read. Only we information addicts…
So, does simply giving up feeds help? It does seem to help with “deep reading” and the discipline of “drinking largely” (a bit), but does not necessarily help with the goal I had in mind, of “conscious consumption”. Instead of reading articles just because they catch my eye, I’m now reading books just because they catch my eye. Is this more dangerous? I don’t know… the same total amount of time seems to be wasted, but what I read seems to stay with me for longer.
I don’t know what you did last summer
I haven’t been reading blogs of any of my friends either. (Except an occasional one here and there.) I plan to resume those, because in addition to the obvious reason, by a curious coincidence all my friends write extremely well. What about the rest of the ≈3800 unread items? With all this accumulated wisdom I pretend to have gained about life and the way to live it — or with just their sheer unmanageable number — am I going to resist the temptation of skimming through them? Given the fact that I counted, probably not.
Update [2 days later] Catching up
I’ve been catching up a bit (already down to ≈2000 items, or mid-July). Some more observations/confirmations:
- Most “news” is worthless. The very fact that it already happened three months ago and has run its course seems to diminish its importance.
- Most observations are worthless. They’re commenting on current news (like sports from months ago). See above.
- I really don’t need to know of every update that Google’s done to their software.
- Funny and cute things *can* remain funny and cute.
- What I love most are mathematics and computer science.
There is one problem:
Another update [2009-09-14]
I’m still subscribed to feeds (have to be, for course announcements), but can choose to only read from certain folders. I had thought it would be impossible for me to avoid feeling compelled on reading items chronologically, or even to simply start Google Reader and not read everything “new”, but it seems possible now. Perhaps the primary problem is simply to break free from habit occasionally.