Friday, November 23, 2018

Mindful Internet Consumption

More and more, when I want to junk out, shop, read the news, and connect with friends, I go to the internet.  A discussion about why that is, or whether or not this is a good thing, I'll let another analyze, or perhaps save for another day.  I'm interested in how to strategically organize internet time so that it's spent productively, consuming the quality content that is out there. 

Mind you, this post is not a how-to from a zen master of web-surfing, but more of a brainstorm from someone who's frustrated from too many evenings spent obsessively scrolling her Twitter feed, scanning news aggregates, and halfheartedly watching 1/3 of a Netflix documentary before yawning and deciding it's time for bed, knowing full well she's missing out on the tons and tons of quality podcasts, articles, and videos out there. 

Here's two strategies I employ to organize internet time, and a few that I think I need to start using: 

Twitter Lists

Twitter is a gold mine for content.  If you're anything like me, however, you'll open Twitter to read the morning news and four minutes later are watching Dolly Parton wish Katy Perry Happy Birthday.  And although any time watching Dolly Parton is time well spent, this is clearly a bit of a sidetrack.  I use Twitter lists to break this content down, and have lists for news, fashion, junk news (Page Six, TMZ), pop culture (Vulture and Variety, etc.) and celebrities like Katy Perry.  I love the focus that these lists provide.  It drowns out a lot of the noise and accentuates your chosen topic.  I've recently appreciated why Ellen Degeneres has an enormous following (she's fucking fun, that's why!) and what a fascinating stream of content Christie's creates--

(see what I mean?!)
It's a bit of a conundrum knowing how many accounts to keep on one list; my news list has over 40 accounts.  Some of these post aggressively and others hardly at all.  It can be disconcerting, then, if my mother asks me if I've heard the news about Portland's Mayor's mutterings, and I am completely clueless.  Wouldn't I have seen something about this if the Oregonian and Willamette Week are on my news list?  Chances are I've missed their posts in lieu of the plethora of posts from the Guardian and New York Post.  For this reason, it's a good idea to keep these lists small; down to ten accounts even; and to segregate the accounts that post aggressively from the ones that post more conservatively. 

Bookmarks and Favorites

Have you ever discovered a fascinating blog, read it obsessively for a week or so, then lost interest as other things came up, and when you want to find it again a year later realize that you've completely forgotten the url or name of the blogger, and so your only hope for finding it again is a google search for some of the terms that you remember from blog posts?

That's happened to me a lot.  In order to alleviate this I try to bookmark any blog I find interesting.  Of course this can result in a LOT of bookmarks!  I break these down by category; personal blogs, news, and miscellaneous are a few of the categories that I use. 

And of course when these bookmark lists become quite long you might find yourself saying, "Will I find the time to read all of these sites, will I really?"  A recently perusal of the New Yorker's front page resulted in five articles that I'd like to read.  This could easily take 40 minutes.  And my news bookmark has at least ten other sites. 

Ok, so my solution to this is to peruse sites for headlines and then revisit the 3-5 articles that most capture your imagination.  And a great stand-alone news source is Axios, which covers the news in sound bites.  A similar process works for podcasts; scroll through the dozen or so episodes that have dropped in the past 24 hours for headlines and who's being interviewed, and note which you'd like to be sure to listen to. 

And consider everything in your bookmarks like clothes in your closet; try to make a point of wearing everything (i.e., visit a site) once a month.  If you have never worn it in a year, then get rid of it no matter how great you think this item (or news source) is. 


This above pointers help, but by no means solve, the conundrum of how to make internet time productive.

Something I may try more often is having monthly objectives: for example last month I made a point to watch Tucker Carlson every evening, and although that habit's gone to the wayside, I found it a worthwhile temporary practice.  He covers a lot of current issues on his show, has his own distinctive voice, and I'm now seriously considering reading his book, Ship of Fools.  As well as a list of sites and podcasts to peruse on a daily or weekly basis so as to not miss out on the must-not-miss-out articles and interviews. 

And then list somewhere of the podcasts episodes and Netflix shows that I want to watch, so that when I find myself on a dry one-hour commute, it's spent listening to/watching some of this content, rather than Stevie Nix singing Landslide for the ten-billionth time.   

Now what about going down the internet rabbit hole?  When a movie recommendation in a podcast leads to an Amazon purchase which leads to spending daze consuming the director's cooking web series? (Yes this is based on my own experience; a Comedy Film Nerd's guest recommended Henry Phillips' Punching the Clown, which led to the Henry's Kitchen Series).  Do we allow ourselves these tangents?  Of course we do!  That's why we love the internet. 

But but maybe the rabbit holes need to be accompanied by some good, old-fashioned discipline.  Allotted times of day, perhaps, for specific sites; morning is for news and evening is for fashion, pop culture, personal blogs and junking out. 

And although all of my intention-setting sounds suspiciously like the person who sets out on a healthy diet and immediately consumes a Big Mac and fries, I think that shooting for the target and missing will still improve anyone's internet experience.

What insight do you have from your own experiences of internet surfing?

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