Like most people with an internet connection, I spend a significant amount of my time on the internet browsing aimlessly. However, I have recently made an effort to rein in and redirect some of this energy.
I started by using the Chrome extension StayFocusd to limit the amount of time I can spend on certain sites (Slate, Salon, Buzzfeed, the New York Times) to one minute per day. That’s about enough time to log into the NYT and get the headlines and click through to an article about gourmet food trucks or elite private schools before I get shut out.
Since I used to spend about 80% of my internet time in browsing those sites, I was left with a void. To date, I’ve mostly filled it by clicking through links that I find on Facebook. If something has become even a minor Facebook trend, then I am up on it. I find that there are certain rewards to getting all of one’s news through social media. Even if what you read is silly or pointless, at least it’s something that you know people care about. You know that this silly or pointless thing somehow manages to capture the imagination.
However, social media isn’t the best way to get actual information. I always feel like I’m a bit behind on current events, because sometimes things are too important for people to post links to them online. Like, no one would post a link being like, “Obama is planning on attacking Syria!” because everyone is supposed to know that already. Instead, they just post a Facebook comment that’s all like, “Obama’s a fucking fascist!” and then I have to google ‘barack obama’ in order to figure out what he’s done now.
That’s not really a problem, though, because I am so over current events. However, when you get all your info via Facebook, you do get a disproportionate amount of random activist drama and twenty-inch conservative rants and funny webcomics and beautiful pictures and heartwarming stories about villagers in Ghana building generators that are powered by spit. Everything has a bit of a populist bias to it.
Not sure what the solution is. For awhile, I thought maybe I’d read blogs. And I’ve found some good ones. But not enough that are thought-provoking. And most are commentary, not information.
I’ve started reading Science News, which is a magazine that I subscribed to when I was in college (but never read). See, my problem with magazines has always been that I thought you have to read them. Once I got over that, they became much more manageable. I don’t read magazines anymore; I just flip through them looking for something interesting. There’s tons of interesting things in Science News. And its advantage over Scientific American or Popular Science or Discover is that all the articles are very short.
I cancelled my subscription to Wired (which was amazing on the iPad), but I might start reading their website. I liked Wired.
The reason I read science and tech magazines is because I’ve sometimes felt like my SF writing is all SF-as-metaphor and not enough SF-as-cool-stuff. It’s all robots and AI and cornucopia machines and whatever, which is all great and everything…but it’s also very done. I do want to be the kind of SF writer who can sometimes invent new and wondrous things. But in order to do that, I need to at least be somewhat familiar with what’s going on in the world of science.
However, I’ve found technology news to be less helpful, because, honestly, it’s mostly gadgetry. Like, self-driving cars are cool. But they don’t astonish.
I can’t read The New Yorker or The Atlantic. Whenever I start to read something that’s 5-10,000 words long, the back of my brain starts going, “Dude, if you’re gonna do this much reading, why don’t you just read an actual book?”