Sunday, November 4, 2012

Escaping the tyranny of cultural choice

Dorian Lynskey's column on the tyranny of cultural choice rang a bit too true for me:
In the most heartfelt chapter of his book Retromania, the music critic Simon Reynolds admits to a strange nostalgia for the boredom of his youth. "Today's boredom is not hungry, a response to deprivation; it is a loss of cultural appetite, in response to the surfeit of claims on your attention and time." One of the many ways in which technology leaves the human brain gasping to keep up is in its provision of almost limitless choice, because time remains as limited as ever. "Life itself is a scarcity economy," writes Reynolds. "You only have so much time and energy."
Technology has birthed new versions of the bedside pile of books: the neglected links stacking up in my Twitter Favourites column; the high-minded Netflix queue compiled by a tired parent who has somehow mistaken himself for a film-studies undergraduate; the earnest documentaries waiting in silent accusation on my DVR, like an unused gym membership, until the day the device mercifully crashes. At the same time, the digital buffet can erode your ability to commit to one thing at a time. The main reason I don't own a Kindle or iPad is my suspicion that, without the firm anchor of a physical book, I will get restless and float away in a sea of options.
I've spent the past few years tweaking my media consumption so that I can capture all the most interesting knowledge (twitter, instapaper, google reader, evernote, etc...).  A few months ago, I finally got the formula right, to the point that I could now spend all day on the internet and never run out of interesting stuff to read, which is to say that I've gotten a little bit too good at capturing potentially interesting information.  My book list is impossibly long, and catching up with my twitter feed and my google reader often seem more like chores sometimes.  Finding a fun new article seems more exhausting than anything else.  So, after the reading this article, I decided that some new rules are in order.  Some ideas to experiment with over the next few weeks:

  • Limit myself to two media consumption sessions per day, one the morning, one in the evening.  During those two sessions, I can check my twitter feed, go through my google reader feed and browse articles from my instapaper, but I'm not allowed to go back in time, so I will accept that anything that I don't feel like reading during those two session was not enough of a priority, and shall be remorselessly x-ed out of my browser.  If there was something that I was truly excited to read, but that I ran out of time for, I can save it to my instapaper.  
  • Spend more time on books.  I spend too much time in front of a computer as it is.  Books require more mental discipline; I cannot just sit mindlessly in front of a book.  And they do not require me to sit in front of a computer, a position that is becoming bad for my back.  
  • Find a non-computer-based hobby.  A musical instrument seems like the best bet.  
  • Be more disciplined.  This, as ever, is probably the greatest struggle.  

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