This post continues a discussion we started several months ago about online overload. Because it’s January and I’m thinking a lot about healthier living (don’t we always), I’ve also been thinking about my online activities in terms of their healthiness. And I’m realizing that there’s a lot of similarity between the diet we eat and the informational “diet” we read, watch and listen to online.
Frankly, I see so many of us simply gorging ourselves on internet. I do it, too. We’ve allowed our RSS readers to become overstuffed to the point that we zip right through all those posts, barely glancing at each one as we search out those we’ll quickly bookmark, star, or tag. We create these stockpiles of barely-read posts, saving them for “later.”
When Twitter and Facebook arrived, we discovered that with one mouse click, we could Like or Favorite any link or update. So we started building stockpiles of these, too. And then Pinterest showed up, and we started building boards – creating even more stockpiles.
I worry that we’re evolving in a rather unhealthy direction with this gulping of online media. If we were doing it with the foods we eat, we’d be in for all kinds of health problems. Will we see similar impacts from overindulging in information?
And interestingly, I don’t think we’re even reading and absorbing all this information – we’re acting upon it. We’re using increasingly truncated tools to process, categorize, store and move on. Every single blog post, photograph, tweet, and Facebook update represents another human being’s effort (in some cases, many hours of it). But it’s hard to see that when you’re focused on grabbing and stashing.
What does all this saved stuff do to us?
If we stretch that food metaphor a little more, then don’t we look a bit like chipmunks packing our cheeks with seeds, storing up for some kind of informational winter? Many of us are sitting on massive information archives at this point – thousands of hours’ worth of reading and making. What will we ever do with all that information?
I have personally bookmarked, Liked, Favorited, retweeted, starred, tagged and pinned thousands of craft tutorials at this point. How many of them have I actually made? Probably fewer than ten. I’ve also saved hundreds of articles and pictures. How many have I even looked at a second time? Probably a similarly small number. And you know what? The mere presence of all those articles waiting to be read and projects waiting to be done acts a bit like a post-binge torpor – I get too overwhelmed to move and I stay on the couch.
I think what we’re engaging in here is simply unconscious scarcity behavior. Think of it: your whole life, information, inspiration and project ideas were sequestered in newspapers, books and magazines, and to take advantage of them, you had to pay. Then the internet came along and suddenly you were awash in lovely free inspiration and instruction, and they were so easy to grab. So of course your instinct was to grab as much as possible – you’d never been able to do that before, and if it was free, why not?
The question, though, is how many saved tutorials are enough? How many pinned photos are enough? And what good are these stockpiles actually doing us in terms of creative development?
What does a healthier online information diet actually look like?
So, faced with an impossible amount of information, what does it mean to consume it more sensibly?
From a crafty standpoint, it might mean spending less time gulping other people’s project ideas and more time actually making our own things. But it might also mean focusing our intake a bit more carefully. If I love crochet, for example, is it healthier for me to stuff myself with more crochet project ideas than I can possibly finish in a lifetime, or is it healthier to fill myself with my interest in 1920′s handbags, so I can bring those design ideas into my crochet, thereby creating something the world hasn’t yet seen?
Or, is it healthier to limit the number of crochet websites I subscribe to at any one time? Or to re-visit my archives of saved projects a few times a year, and weed out the ones I don’t really want to make anymore? I think everyone will have her own solution here.
…And I think a healthier information diet also looks like letting go of the “keeping up” myth. The internet is a firehose. Trying to see it all is like trying to eat my weight in M&M’s every day – pleasant enough in theory, but with huge potential for unpleasant results down the road.
I think it’s about consuming fewer informational “calories,” but also about making sure the ones you do consume are actually nourishing you in some meaningful way. This brings me to…
My attempt at a healthier online diet for 2012
With all that said, I’m embarking on a new monthly project for 2012. I’m going to try to figure out what it means to have a healthier online diet, and to take stock of what benefits I’ve gained (or lost) as a result. As a starting point, I’ll identify a handful of subjects each month that represent what I’m most interested in right now. (You can see January’s roster above. ) And then I’ll use that filter on my internet time. This means I’ll be worrying less about “keeping up” and instead, seeking out those information trails that seem to lead me to my interests. When I catch myself idly surfing, I’m going to gently stop myself and re-apply my filter.
I’m going to trust that the internet will deliver me the things I really need to see, without my needing to frantically stockpile. Instead of stockpiling, I’m going to read less, read what I do read more deeply, and synthesize the ideas I’ve taken away.
And I’d love to report back to you monthly, because the accountability of your presence was so helpful for me in last year’s supporting Free project.
I’m also thinking about “information health” in terms of what I share online this year. How many links to cool things from the internet, for example, do people really need on Twitter? How many blog posts are too many? At what point does online sharing stop being helpful and start becoming noise? I can’t begin to articulate my thoughts on this yet, but I hope to blog about it sometime this year.
For now, I’ll wrap up by saying that of course, part of the delight of the online landscape comes from stumbling over amazing things. Of course I’m going to need a little directionless wandering here and there – we all do. All work and no play and all that. But I’m curious to see how much I can grow my creative skills, my business skills and my thinking if I start letting go of those informational M&M’s more often.
What do you think? How healthy does your online information diet feel to you? What strategies have you tried to make it more nutritious?