Lately I’ve been thinking a lot and talking with friends about the sheer volume of content there is to consume. Not only are we expected to keep up with the news that is directly relevant today, but also our friends, our circles of interest, the latest TV series, world news and more. And even if you choose follow only one information outlet, topic or creator there are a multitude of platforms on which to consume their information.
I’m no historian but I imagine information was first passed through speech, then drawings, writing, radio, television, the internet and beyond. As technology progresses there are more and more ways to communicate and a lower threshold for entry. Anyone who owns a smartphone has almost infinite ways to both create and share information.
However, this democratisation of communication comes at a cost. The words of James Gleick can’t say it any better – “When information becomes cheap, attention becomes expensive”. And since with most outlets you can subscribe for free it’s so easy to opt-in. So much so, that everything has become a firehose of information and we need a way to control it.
I’ve tried almost everything throughout the years, searching for the perfect way to manage and stay on top of all of my media, from read it later apps to RSS feeds. Yet algorithms, muting and curation can only do so much. As The Minimalists say “the easiest way to organise your stuff is to get rid of it.”
And this can also be applied to the media we consume.
About 10 years ago, after reading the 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris, I stopped regularly reading traditional news. Tim called it selective ignorance – “From this point forward, I’m going to propose that you develop an uncanny ability to be selectively ignorant. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is also practical. It is imperative that you learn to ignore or redirect all information and interruptions that are irrelevant, unimportant, or unactionable. Most are all three.” The idea behind it is that if something is truly relevant, important and actionable, someone will tell you about it.
Decide what type of media is relevant, important and most importantly actionable to you and your current life situation today. And once you’ve done that you then need to refine, refine, refine.
It’s simply no longer enough to know your preferences. You have to work towards your preference and forsake all others.
I used to think that knowledge is power. But not the kind of knowledge that is gleaned from skim reading the headlines or listening to podcasts on double speed. I want to read with depth. I want quality over quantity. There’s no prize for reading more books or keeping up with more newspapers nor does anyone else care.
And yet, there is one fear I harbour about this selective consumption. Won’t I simple be creating a bubble for myself? By just reading one newspaper, won’t my information be biased? An informational walled rose garden that is rich, beautiful and well-watered but only contains a single species of flower.
Here’s Ryan Holiday on such a question:
“One of the most powerful things you can do as a human being in our hyperconnected, 24/ 7 media world is say: “I don’t know.” Or, more provocatively: “I don’t care.” Most of society seems to have taken it as a commandment that one must know about every single current event, watch every episode of every critically acclaimed television series, follow the news religiously, and present themselves to others as an informed and worldly individual. But where is the evidence that this is actually necessary? Is the obligation enforced by the police? Or is it that you’re just afraid of seeming silly at a dinner party? Yes, you owe it to your country and your family to know generally about events that may directly affect them, but that’s about all. How much more time, energy, and pure brainpower would you have available if you drastically cut your media consumption? How much more rested and present would you feel if you were no longer excited and outraged by every scandal, breaking story, and potential crisis (many of which never come to pass anyway)?”
Yes, you run the risk of not knowing something but you’ll never know everything so stop trying. There’s a reason why people become specialists in their fields, or are world champions at a particular sport; it comes from putting more wood behind fewer arrows and making sacrifices to continually do so.
The reason I find this important is that I thought by consuming more information I would have more to write about here on this blog. But the paradox is that all that time consuming content, ate up the time I would use to create – to write. And if this has affected me, how might your consumption be encroaching on your life?
Drop me a comment if you find the level of media simply overwhelming and any tips to manage it.