Over the last few weeks I have been resurrecting some old reading habits. I am trying to spend more time reading long form articles and books and far less time in “conversational spaces” (insert social media site of choice here).
I don’t miss the conversation.
Although for years I’ve practiced, “Don’t read the comments, ever,” I still continued to actively engage on Twitter and recreated a Facebook account a couple of years ago. I slowly removed sites from my RSS reader that I found cropping up other places. My New Yorker subscription and The Economist subscriptions were cancelled. I left many articles unread in Instapaper. Short articles and comments that I could actively boost and engage with that led to sharing my own thoughts that were boosted and engaged with was addicting and felt like the better way to “keep up”.
Who needs to keep up?
There are a lot of things that led to my changing habits, but perhaps the most important factor was realizing that I could slow down. When my own life ramped up in activity and complexity, I could go days without checking “feeds”. I never missed a thing that mattered. “Keeping up” really meant collecting scraps of thoughts and sharing scraps of thoughts like staring down this small section of bark on this fascinating tree at the entrance to a forest.
Now that I have stepped back to take a broader view, I am much happier. It turns out that I can far more effectively limit what I read to things I am actually interested in when sources are controlled by me. Social media is really good at following individuals, but any one individuals overlap with my interests is always imperfect. When I follow someone for their mechanical keyboard glamor photography, I am also inundated with their views on immigration. As a result, spending time reading on the internet meant allowing the internet to dictate my mood. Now I can go to a set of feeds or a new source or website that only posts pictures of puppies when I am in the mood to look at puppies, and Trump can keep being a massive piece of shit somewhere else.
I am creating a filter bubble, not for confirmation bias but for sanity’s sake, not to silence view points but to ensure I spend time learning from what I read, considering my views and those of others, and enjoying my hobbies.
I would much rather read a long article in The Weekly Standard than the screed of some distant connection on Facebook. I would rather learn about current events from The Washington Post, read considered views in Slate or The Atlantic, or engage in magazine-style, long form journalism of all types than catch up on Twitter.
Social media crowded out quality media and I allowed it to because it kept my racing brain constantly fed and offered me some sense of validation and connectivity when I jumped into the fray.
I don’t want to jump into the fray as much anymore, I get almost no satisfaction from it. And I’m tired of eating cheap take out every night when I can afford a healthy, complete, and expertly prepared meal.
A few years ago I started to use Goodreads and take its annual reading challenge seriously so that I pushed myself to read fiction novels, which always brought me joy. We also cancelled cable, not to watch less television and movies but to watch less unintentional television and movies. The problem wasn’t how much we consumed but how much of it was there because it was meaningless, thoughtless, background noise. Both of these changes have been a part of my good mental health. I don’t know why it took me so long to apply the same thinking to the rest of my media habits.