I have a Fear of Missing Out on the best links and stories of the day, hesitant of taking breaks from Twitter—of jumping off the moving train—because I feel it will be harder to jump back on, to catch up to everyone else, to saturate myself in all that’s relevant again, to know what now is.
I love the Atlantic’s “What I Read” series, in which figures in the media and other public spheres describe how they deal with information overload, what they read, and how and when they read it. I especially liked what Sasha Frere-Jones said about Twitter—”It’s like the best newspaper you couldn’t possibly design”—and how he acknowledges there are too many people saying too many things on the Internet, all the time.
And we just can’t read everything.
I met my boyfriend in a cafe one afternoon, and he had finished reading articles he saved on his Kindle. What he said was interesting: how he read all those stories, yet didn’t take away anything particularly important or memorable. As if, at the end of the day, not much is gained from scouring and consuming as much as we can on the Internet.
So I learn of an earthquake halfway across the world, in Italy, moments after it happens. Or I read that Steve Jobs or Whitney Houston or Adam Yauch have died from seeing the endless stream of RIP tweets as the news breaks. This is information I will hear anyway, at some point, through word of mouth, or flipping through a newspaper, or some other way.
So, why must I know first?
I don’t like the idea of missing something, even if something was nothing. I experience this need to know on Twitter, not Facebook; I could care less about missing out on what my friends on Facebook are doing. But on Twitter, I hate the thought of missing out on trending topics and ideas shared between the minds I’ve chosen to follow. I follow less than 100 accounts—a manageable amount—and that makes me more inclined to scroll past every single tweet, each day, because I can. It’s as if I check off a task on my To Do list each time I scroll through my feed to reach the most recent tweet. I also feel an irrational sense of accomplishment when I clear my Instapaper list, which occurs either in the morning, as I read stuff on the Internet over two cups of coffee, or in the evening, when I read articles I’ve saved throughout my work day.
Sometimes I envision my Twitter feed as rushing water: my presence is a dam, and each tweet is debris making its way downstream. It’s now a challenge to let information simply flow—to let tweets swim by without me seeing or interacting with them. But because of this constant, obsessive reading and absorbing of everything on the Internet, I cannot write.
I have several posts I’ve been picking at since early spring that I’ll likely not finish. One piece tackles (in)authenticity, which I began after reading posts on hipster cabin porn, and then Matt Pearce’s wonderful piece on Instagram and Hipstamatic, and then Facebook buying Instagram, and then variations and takedowns of all of these. Each time I read something on the Internet about authenticity (or faux-authenticity), I return to shape mine—adding, deleting, adding, deleting, and then reading something else, and then adding and deleting again.
I am a slow thinker, and an even slower writer. I don’t react and write as fast as everyone else, and wonder how others have the time to write something, and why I wasn’t writing something, and maybe if I spent all day thinking and reading and writing I could also generate something—something relevant, not something after everyone else has moved on.
The thing about never having time to write is the piece in my head keeps shifting. It's annoying. Or perhaps it's good to let it age.—
cheri lucas. (@cherilucas) May 25, 2012
That thing where I get inspired but really discouraged when I read other people's stuff. Feels like I'm trying to jump onto a moving train.—
cheri lucas. (@cherilucas) April 01, 2012
But I’m paralyzed from Twitter and the resources that provide the brain food I crave—curator’s emails of must-read links (like @brainpicker‘s newsletter), WordPress’ following feature of blogs, fellow bloggers’ reading roundups (like Miranda’s What I Read This Week), and weekly recaps like Nieman Journalism Lab’s This Week in Review. And I now receive Twitter emails summarizing the stories shared in my feed, which are representative of my activity, but . . . there’s just too much to respond to. I wonder when we’ll come to a point where I could hire my own personal curator—someone who knows my interests and what I like to read, and who could send me one handpicked link each day.
Because that’s all I need. One intriguing, thoughtful story per day, relevant to my interests, rather than a flood of information that passes through me, three-fourths of which doesn’t add real value to my day. I think of this Berfrois piece I read yesterday on art, advertising, short attention spans, and the speed of modern life—aside from a few quick posts, this was the only thing I read yesterday, and it’s been marinating the past 24 hours, calling me to muse on it.
It’s this sort of inspiration I seek on the Internet, and why I like to read. But clearly, the inundation prevents this spark.
- Information Inundation and Social Deskilling (The New Inquiry)
- The Burden of Consuming Information (Blue Rondo à la Turk)
Cheri Lucas Rowlands
Writer at Writing Through the Fog. Editor at Automattic.