I am not new to social media, having been in newsgroups and chat rooms since the early 90s. I’m also not new to information overload, as I’ve always been a news junkie and a voracious reader. But every once in a while, my life changes with respect to how I give and receive information, and because everyone online has been discussing the same subject recently, I was driven to self-contemplation. I’ve decided I have been on information overload and have instinctively found ways to deal with it, and I will bet you have, too. How much of the following sounds familiar?
1)I no longer feel compelled to read 1000 Google Reader posts a day. If I don’t read EVERY WORD of Andrew Sullivan, Tech Crunch, or Huffington Post, so be it. I read feeds early in the morning and late at night, or perhaps in a boring meeting, and that’s it. I subscribe to so many things that I always have more than 1000 unread items in Google Reader, and I’ve stopped caring. Every once in a while, I delete them. I read them from new to old, not from old to new like I used to. Why? Because the oldest ones will already have been replaced by some later news, typically. I feel like I’m not missing anything.
2)I also don’t sit on Tweetdeck or the Twitter site unless I have nothing better to do. Instead, I have Twhirl with about six open windows running on my desktop, either in a different space than my browser, or on my other monitor (depending on where I’m working). Although I sometimes use XMPP, I don’t read back through archived posts even though I can. When I feel like it, I say hello to peeps I haven’t seen in a while on Twitter and who roll by on their 140-character rafts . I click on links from friends of mine on Twitter whose judgment I trust or whose topics sound relevant to me. That probably replaces some of the feeds I used to read.
3) I dip my toe into conversations, but I never spend all day responding to someone who flames me. Twitter’s good for that, too –it’s really impossible to have a long conversation there. I could get lost on Friendfeed, but I limit my exposure.
4)I never buy a newspaper, although I read many excerpts from newspapers online. The better the site is, the more of it I read. I like the Wall Street Journal, the NY Times, and Businessweek. my hometown newspaper, the Arizona Republic, has a site I almost NEVER visit. I get most of my local news from TV by accident. I do think newspapers are important for some things, although breaking news seems to come more from Twitter and cable than from newsrooms of newspapers.
What’s good about newspapers? Opinion and investigative reporting. Opinion comes to me free all the time via the web. Investigative reporting I would support, as I support Spot.us. I pay for content in the Wall Street Journal, because it still symbolizes investigative journalism in the financial sphere to me. Perhaps Rupert Murdoch is changing that.
So newspapers in the traditional format are not sacrosanct, although news is. The old format aggregated many things now available elsewhere: classifieds, crossword puzzles, comics, sports scores, stock prices.
4) Online video has changed my TV habits. I no longer watch complete shows, or anything at the moment it is broadcast. I Tivo a lot less than I used to, because I can find the excerpt I really need to see somewhere online. TV, like Twitter and Google Reader, is a background to my life. I hardly can be said to concentrate on it either.
5)I read books on the Kindle, and have them downloaded to my iPod by Audible.com. I don’t buy them anymore, and I am slowly giving away my library. This despite the fact that I was a literature major and have a Ph.D. No one would call me illiterate.
My late husband, who died a scant dozen years ago, knew none of this. He would not recognize the way I live now. Am I living a richer, or a poorer intellectual life than I used to? Neither. It’s just different.