How do you consume media?
Reading Chris Hayes talk about his media diet is a good excuse to spend some time talking about my own. I'm dissatisfied with it.
Like a lot of people I know, I spend a fair amount of time on Twitter. But unlike a lot of the people I know, I don't find it useful or informative. I rarely find great articles or thoughts linked. The conversation is biased toward whatever is dominating cable news at that moment, which isn't really what I write about. But I do find it fun. And I consider tweeting regularly to be part of my job. So on Twitter, I'm generally looking for things to tweet. Which is fine, but I'm spending too much time on it. The thing is, it's like an instant-pleasure button. There's always something new to read. Always a quick distraction.
But if I'm attracted to Twitter, I'm reliant on RSS feeds. Full RSS feeds, to be more specific. My information consumption is overwhelmingly biased toward outlets I can read fully in Google Reader. That cuts out a few blogs I'd like to read more of, but not that many. What it does do is bias me in favor of blogs and against newspaper articles, magazines and so forth. Wonkbook was in part an effort to bring this into better balance, but it hasn't changed my day as much as I'd hoped.
Adding to the problem is that reading blogs is better for blogging. It's easier to write something small by reading something small. Longer magazine articles have a lot more texture and information, but they're much harder to blog. For instance: I know exactly how to write about this Mark Kleiman post on prison reform. It makes one point, and I can write about that point. Graeme Woods's fantastic Atlantic article on how advances in monitoring technology and GPS systems could obviate the need for prisons (or at least many prisons) is harder to blog about.
But you lose a lot in this trade-off: Blogs make for quick reading, but -- with some exceptions -- less deep understanding. But they're easier to read, and updated constantly, and so it's almost always easier to scroll through some blogs then pick up a book. That's particularly true during the workday, when I need to find grist for my next post now.
Oh, and books. Deciding which book to read at any given moment is fairly stressful, I find. You're talking about a large time commitment, so reading one thing means not reading another. And the choices are hard -- not just in which book, but which type of book. On the one hand, I want to read books on the issues I know well, as that's how I stay up-to-date on my topics. On the other hand, I learn a lot less from those books, as almost every page is stuff I've already read. Comparatively, reading books about things I hardly know teaches me a lot, but it doesn't necessarily teach me things that are useful in my work.
To some degree, the same goes for blogs. I came across Kathleen Fasanella's Fashion Incubator while researching a column on the fashion copyright bill (more on that later). I love it. It's a deep look into an industry I really don't know much about. I want to know about every blog that's like it. But can I justify reading it rather than reading more commentary on quantitative easing?
And let's not even get into how often I uselessly click over to Gmail while doing other things. My mental commentary is almost goldfishlike: "Hey look: an e-mail! Hey look: an e-mail! Hey look: an e-mai..." We're also not going to talk about how many more calls I should be making every day.
So I guess I'd separate my media problems into two buckets: how to manage distractions, and how to make choices. In my experience, people have intricate and interesting media habits they've developed to optimize their information consumption and help with these problems. I'd like to hear yours.
Photo credit: SparkCBC/Flick/CC.
August 20, 2010; 11:25 AM ET
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