I started the new year trying on some new media habits.
No More Aggregators
I got rid of Apple News and Google News. I really came to hate wondering what they were going to slip into the feed. The way Apple News makes everything look like it came from the same place adds a layer of effort to reading: I’d get halfway down a story, think it seemed sort of off, and suddenly realize that I’d been slipped a story from the Washington Times. It’s been the work of a year to be able to say with absolutely zero liberal guilt that I do not care what the Washington Times has to say about anything. They are not owed my time, and I got sick of playing whack-a-mole with Apple News to get that kind of stuff out of my feed.
Death to Facebook
After I got a targeted ad that tried to play up my fear of millennials (note: I do not fear millennials either as a matter of cross-generational animus or because I’m going to get old and die before they do and resent it) I realized I just hate Facebook and don’t believe it should get any more of my time or attention. It’s creepy and loathsome. Everyone is on it, yeah, but I’ve chosen not to be.
I bought online subscriptions for the New York Times, Washington Post, and Economist.
Each has something about it that makes me want to throw my phone against the wall, but the difference between them and the hoard populating Apple News and Google News is that they each have a point of view. Sometimes it’s an irritating or blinkered point of view, but it’s consistent, well-written, and has a toe in objective reality (As near as I can tell. As near as anyone can reasonably tell.)
I read through the top stories in the Post and Times over breakfast. Sometimes I just skim the ledes, sometimes I stop and read something all the way through. When I get to the bottom of the list of stories, I stop. I usually start with the Times, and follow with the Post, using it to give me some parallax on the political stories.
I seldom read opinion pieces or editorials, but I’m not sure how principled I feel about that. If you know of a columnist whose views you can’t predict simply by reading the headline, I’d love to hear about them.
The main idea, though, is that once I’ve hit the digital version of the front page and kept myself to news, I stop and move on to the next thing in my small list.
I use Tweetbot to follow Twitter. The iOS version has a pretty neat filtering feature that I think will allow me to continue to use Twitter without losing my mind: I’ve written a filter that screens out retweets and I use it most of the time. Without all the retweets, Twitter goes back to what it was like at its inception: You get to read what the people you care about are doing, thinking, reading, etc. in their own words.
I’m conflicted about this. Retweets are an important part of Twitter, yeah, especially for communities, but they also feel like the primary vector for the worst dynamics of the platform.
What I think I’m observing in myself with these changes is a stronger desire to engage. When I was struggling with the aggregation firehose and letting myself get sucked into the endlessly scrolling news apps, I felt overwhelmed and ill equipped to have an opinion about much. By failing to limit the parts of Twitter I was struggling with, I didn’t want to follow it at all, and that was depressing because so many people I like are on Twitter, and I’d love to know what they’re up to.
By sticking to a small selection of sources whose biases I understand, and being disciplined about making it through the front page before putting down the phone or tablet and getting on with my day, I don’t feel as stressed out and fatigued by the mere act of comprehending what is happening in the world.
So far so good.