Media Consumption in 2014

“Few things are as important to your quality of life as your choices about
how to spend the precious resource of your free time.”
— W. Gallagher in Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life

“[W]e’re surrounded by so much information that is of immediate interest to us
that we feel overwhelmed by the neverending pressure of trying to keep up with it all.”
Nicolas Carr

Take a look at the media you’re consuming. There is so much noise. And no matter how many times I click, open a new tab, or check my email the pile of “interesting” information doesn’t seem to shrink.

I’m working harder and harder but not moving ahead. People can create clickbait faster than I can consume it.

As we approach 2014, I’ve been giving my media consumption some thinking. Maybe I’ve been trying to do too much. How many open tabs can one person honestly read, connect, consolidate, and retain anyway? And how many of those tabs are noise?

We tend to just add things and never take things away. There are always more people to follow on Twitter. More people to ‘friend’ on Facebook. More periodicals to read. More blogs to subscribe to. More news to watch. More … more … more …

But what are we so worried about?

Are we really going to miss a major news event? No. Unless we pack up and move to the mountains major news will find us. So is it that we’re worried about not finding out in real-time? Who cares if you find out in the first minute that Nelson Mandela has died. What matters is that he’s gone. Whether it takes you 30 seconds to find out or a day, the loss is the same.

But we need to know. And, more than ever, we need to know in real time. It’s like we’re in a race with our friends to see who of us can find out news first and share it in our circle first.

Well, that’s a race I don’t want to win.

It’s not just news. It’s the rebirth of Yellow Journalism, where everyone wants to stir emotion more than inform. Everyone wants your eyes and, more importantly, your clicks. Traffic matters. And every day the competition for our attention starts all over again. It’s toxic to us.

But is any of that making us smarter, furthering our relationships, or giving us real pleasure? I don’t think so.

The more we consume, that is the more noise we let in, the harder it becomes to find signal. And if we are what we consume, I want to make sure my brain is not getting the (mental) equivalent of too much sugar.

So my plan for 2014 is to clean my mind a bit by consuming less internet and more books. In addition to that, I want to reflect more about what I don’t want to consume. More is not better.

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients.
Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention,  and a need to allocate that attention
efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.
Herbert Simon

Newspapers

In July 2013 I stopped reading newspapers. News is toxic to the mind.

“To be completely cured of newspapers,
spend a year reading the previous week’s newspapers.”
— Nassim Taleb in Bed of Procrustes

Why? The ratio of signal to noise in papers is too low. We end up misinterpreting noise for signal.

We’re all worried about missing out but if something important is going on, trust me it will find its way to you.

Periodicals

I subscribe to The Economist and The New York Review of Books.

A friend of mine, who reads as much if not more than I do, has a simple rule for periodicals: Either it gets read by the end of the following day or it get chucked. This keeps them from building up.

The added bonus is that if you find yourself throwing away the same thing too often, you know exactly what to unsubscribe to.

Social Media

Twitter
On Twitter, for example, I follow only the number of people I can really get through in 10 minutes of looking at everyone’s tweets. For me this is about 160-170 people.

So my rule is that If I’m at 160 and I want to add someone that means I have to remove someone. It isn’t so much that 160 is a hard limit but rather that this rule acts as a trigger to make me consider adding someone.

Within that 160, I try to also ensure that I have a lot of different politics and ideologies. Occasionally I’ll rotate people in and out to shake up my thinking.

Facebook
I don’t have a Facebook account, only a fanpage. Given the management overhead associated with that page and the low traffic flow through as a result of the business model changes at Facebook, I’m even considering getting rid of that.

It seems old school but if I want to know what my friends are up to, I’ll ask them.

In short, follow only those who consistently deliver value to you. Be ruthless.

Television

Just cut the cord. Put the time you were spending watching TV into reading and building your relationships.

Email

If your inbox is like mine it’s probably full of junk. I’ve been doing something about that recently.

All those emails that companies send you that you never asked for. I’m unsubscribing or marking them as spam. That only makes a small, yet meaningful dent.

And most importantly, I’m cutting back on the number of emails I send. Why? Because the more emails I send the more emails I get. Another tip I follow is to only check it certain times of day.

Phones

I know phones are not really media but I can’t help myself.

Much to my mother’s dismay, my home phone is set up to almost always go right to voicemail. She can call my cell if it’s an emergency but she never does. (Love you mom.)

I have a cell phone. But I use it differently than most people.

First, only a few people have my cell number. I don’t spend my day texting, sexting, or snapchatting.

Second, I use my cell primarily as a productivity enhancement: to send emails or read.

What about the apps?
When the app for linkedin started going crazy with alerts, I deleted it. Too much noise.

Blogs

This goes for me too.

Commenting on this post a friend of mine said “Aren’t you worried about people unsubscribing from Farnam Street?”

I’m not.

Your attention is valuable. I know this and I work hard to earn it.

If I’m not adding value to your life on a consistent basis, you should unsubscribe. Although the paradox is that if you unsubscribe you’ve just proven that I am adding value.