We live in our digital streams. More and more of our lives are spent scrolling through endless feeds of pretty pictures, flashing gifs and smart articles we wish we had time to read. We’ve got Google Reader accounts packed to the gills, Tumblr dashboards that never seem to quit and Twitter feeds that often move faster than we can comprehend. I am both enamored with the perfectly curated content that bubbles up to the surface of my feeds and crippled by their constant bombardment. I even made a site that tracks nearly everything I consume in an attempt to quantify the ridiculous rate at which we now take in. No matter how much I scroll, read, watch, like and tweet, the “work” is never done. And that’s the biggest issue, why does this feel like work?!
Most of us have unwittingly trained ourselves to fill every idle second with time spent scrolling through one of the many streams that make up our digital lives. The troubling thing is how often I catch myself zoning out as if I were watching TV at 2am. Scrolling and passively following links, half reading headlines and then quickly moving on. Truthfully, if I can’t finish the article or video in under five minutes, I skip it. The result is constant feeling like I am missing things. A lot of things.
That’s how it used to be. The dark days before I learned how to unquestionably dominate my streams. Before I started using a few simple tool to keep the firehouse of content being pumped into my life as something I benefit from not something that adds to my anxiety. How do I organize all this quality stuff in a way that I can actually enjoy it when I have the time? Here’s how:
1) Separate time curating from time consuming
It is hard to make yourself take a beat and enjoy a few pieces of content when you know there is a limitless warehouse of shiny objects and funny photos to to keep scrolling through. The act of scouring these feeds often takes up more time than we allow ourselves to actually enjoy any of it.Use your time spent flicking along in your streams as an opportunity to filter out the noise. This is when you can find those gems that remind your how awesome the Internet is. The high octne content that makes you want to show all your friends. Like the latest Ideas Channel episode or the Vice article that say we are, in fact, living in the Matrix.
Make the goal your five minutes in line at Starbucks to find the best stuff your feed is serving up. What are the videos and articles you don’t want to miss but don’t have time to dig into at the moment? Found them? Great, moving on….
2) Catch the best content
There are many services out there for saving content to be enjoyed later, when convenient.
Instapaper (founded by former Tumblr lead developer Marco) is wonderful. Any article I come across that looks interesting, I add it to my Read Later queue where it sits until I am ready. You can organize articles in folders and Instapaper keeps all your previously read articles archived for future reference. In other words, Instapaper becomes a custom tailored daily paper full of only the stuff you care about.
VHX could be called Instapaper for video. The services has been around for a few years and has some fantastic features like turning your Twitter and Tumblr feeds into auto-playing television stations. What I use the most though is the ability to save Youtube and Vimeo videos to a queue that I can access from my desktop or mobile device.
With these services I am able to enjoy the flood of content as it rushes past my eyes because I know I’m not missing the things that pique my attention due to lack of time. But, having these curated buckets of content waiting for me to enjoy is only half the battle. Bottom line, if you save something to “Read later” but later never comes, you are wasting your time.
This is the biggest change in behavior. Carving out chunks of time to consciously consume. But, there is no need to reinvent the wheel and tech toys like the Kindle, iPad and Apple TV make it easy to devour this content you have queued up. No more wasted time. The content is there when I need it. If you spend an hour just consuming (not filtering and tagging and scrolling and rebloging) it is incredible how more accomplished you will feel.
For me, Sunday mornings are the best time to sit back (with a fresh pot of coffee I drink for taste and not out of necessity) and catchup on my Instapaper feed. 10 years ago I would read the Times cover to cover, now I pull out my iPad. I treat video the same way. If I ever find myself channel surfing for more than a few minutes, I switch over to my Apple TV, pull up VHX and dive in.
Now you’ve got a system that keeps you informed and allows you to synthesize all this new information into something that makes you smarter. You can stop there but there are so many possible ways you can share the experience and enhance your understanding of the content.
I’d suggest using IFTTT to make sharing the content you enjoy elegant and instant. IFTTT lets you connect different services together with “triggers”. Think: Upload a photo to Instagram, it’s automagically saved in my Dropbox. This same power can be used to make sharing the content you consume frictionless. Personally, I use a trigger that tweets out anything I favorite within Instapaper. This gives me a painfully simple way to share an article I have just finished. Look at each reading session as an opportunity to grow your knowledge even further by sharing what you consume and discussing it with others.
So, that’s how I do it. How I took control of my media guilt and harnessed the power of my streams. What about you? Any tips on how to get the most out of this digital brain trust we call the interwebz?
Do share, I’ll read it later.