Tag: RSS

The best place to be is somewhere else?

So said Albarran Cabrera, except I added a cheeky question mark.

I have a theory. Not a grand, unifying theory of everything, but a theory nonetheless. I reckon that, despite common wisdom attributing the decline of comments on blogs to social media, it’s at least also because of something else.

Here’s an obvious point: there’s more people online now than there were ten years ago. As a result, there’s more stuff being produced and shared and, because of that, there’s more to miss out on. This is known as the Fear Of Missing Out (or FOMO).

While I don’t think anyone realistically thinks it’s possible to keep up with everything produced online every day, I think people do have an expectation that they can keep up with what their online friends are doing and thinking. As the number of people we’re following in different places grows and grows, we don’t have much time to share meaningfully. Hence the rise of the retweet button.

Back in 2006, in the mists of internet time, Kathy Sierra wrote a great post entitled The myth of “keeping up”. Remember that this was before people were really using social networks such as Twitter. She talks about what we’re experiencing as ‘information anxiety’ and has some tips to combat it, which I think are still relevant:

  • Find the best aggregators
  • Get summaries
  • Cut the redundancy!
  • Unsubscribe to as many things as possible
  • Recognise that gossip and celebrity entertainment are black holes
  • Pick the categories you want for a balanced perspective, and include some from OUTSIDE your main field of interest
  • Be a LOT more realistic about what you’re likely to get to, and throw the rest out.
  • In any thing you need to learn, find a person who can tell you what is:
    • Need to know
    • Should know
    • Nice to know
    • Edge case, only if it applies to you specifically
    • Useless

The interesting thing is that, done well, social media can actually be a massive force for good. It used to be set up for that, coming on the back of RSS. Now, it’s set up to drag you into arguments about politics and the kind of “black holes” of gossip and celebrity entertainment that Kathy mentions.

One of the problems is that we have a cult of ‘busy’ which people mis-attribute to a Protestant work ethic instead of rapacious late-stage capitalism. I’ve recently finished 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Jonathan Crary where he makes this startlingly obvious, but nevertheless profound point:

Because one’s bank account and one’s friendships can now be managed through identical machinic operations and gestures, there is a growing homogenization of what used to be entirely unrelated areas of experience.

Jonathan Crary

…and:

[S]ince no moment, place, or situation now exists in which one can not shop, consume, or exploit networked resources, there is a relentless incursion of the non-time of 24/7 into every aspect of social or personal life.

Jonathan Crary

In other words, you’re busy because of your smartphone, the apps you decide to install upon it, and the notifications that you then receive.

The solution to FOMO is to know who you are, what you care about, and the difference you’re trying to make in the world. As Gandhi famously said:

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.

Mahatma Gandhi

I’ve recently fallen into the trap of replying to work emails on my days off. It’s a slippery slope, as it sets up an expectation.

via xkcd

The same goes with social media, of course, except that it’s even more insidious, as an ‘action’ can just be liking or retweeting. It leads to slacktivism instead of making actual, meaningful change in the world.

People joke about life admin but one of those life admin tasks might be to write down (yes! with a pen and paper!) the things you’re trying to achieve with the ‘free’ apps that you’ve got installed. If you were being thorough, or teaching kids how to do this, perhaps you’d:

  1. List all of the perceived benefits
  2. List all of the perceived drawbacks
  3. List all of the ways that the people making the free app can make money

Tim Ferriss recently reposted an interview he did with Seth Godin back in 2016 about how he (Seth) manages his life. It’s an object lesson in focus, and leading an intentional life without overly-quantifying it. I can’t help but think it’s all about focus. Oh, and he doesn’t use social media, other than auto-posting from his blog to Twitter.

For me, at least, because I spend so much time surrounded by technology, the decisions I make about tech are decisions I make about life. A couple of months ago I wrote a post entitled Change your launcher, change your life where I explained that even just changing how you access apps can make a material difference to your life.

So, to come full circle, the best place to be is actually where you are right now, not somewhere else. If you’re fully present in the situation (Tim Ferriss suggests taking three breaths), then ask yourself some hard questions about what success looks like for you, and perhaps whether what you say, what you think, and what you do are in harmony.

Reading the web on your own terms

Although it was less than a decade ago since the demise of the wonderful, simple, much-loved Google Reader, it seems like it was a different age entirely.

Subscribing to news feeds and blogs via RSS wasn’t as widely used as it could/should have been, but there was something magical about that period of time.

In this article, the author reflects on that era and suggests that we might want to give it another try:

Well, I believe that RSS was much more than just a fad. It made blogging possible for the first time because you could follow dozens of writers at the same time and attract a considerably large audience if you were the writer. There were no ads (except for the high-quality Daring Fireball kind), no one could slow down your feed with third party scripts, it had a good baseline of typographic standards and, most of all, it was quiet. There were no comments, no likes or retweets. Just the writer’s thoughts and you.

I was a happy user of Google Reader until they pulled the plug. It was a bit more interactive than other feed readers, somehow, in a way I can’t quite recall. Everyone used it until they didn’t.

The unhealthy bond between RSS and Google Reader is proof of how fragile the web truly is, and it reveals that those communities can disappear just as quickly as they bloom.

Since that time I’ve been an intermittent user of Feedly. Everyone else, it seems, succumbed to the algorithmic news feeds provided by Facebook, Twitter, and the like.

A friend of mine the other day said that “maybe Medium only exists because Google Reader died — Reader left a vacuum, and the social network filled it.” I’m not entirely sure I agree with that, but it sure seems likely. And if that’s the case then the death of Google Reader probably led to the emergence of email newsletters, too.

[…]

On a similar note, many believe that blogging is making a return. Folks now seem to recognize the value of having your own little plot of land on the web and, although it’s still pretty complex to make your own website and control all that content, it’s worth it in the long run. No one can run ads against your thing. No one can mess with the styles. No one can censor or sunset your writing.

Not only that but when you finish making your website you will have gained superpowers: you now have an independent voice, a URL, and a home on the open web.

I don’t think we can turn the clock back, but it does feel like there might be positive, future-focused ways of improving things through, for example, decentralisation.

Source: Robin Rendle

Your New Year’s resolution for 2018? Ditch Facebook.

If something’s been pre-filtered by Cory Doctorow and Jason Kottke then you know it’s going to be good. Sure enough, the open memo, to all marginally-smart people/consumers of internet “content” by Foster Kamer, is right on the money:

Literally, all you need to do: Type in web addresses. Use autofill! Or even: Google the website you want to go to, and go to it. Then bookmark it. Then go back every now and again.

Instead of reading stories that get to you because they’re popular, or just happen to be in your feed at that moment, you’ll read stories that get to you because you chose to go to them. Sounds simple, and insignificant, and almost too easy, right?

On our flight yesterday, my son asked how I was still reading articles on my phone, despite it being in aeroplane mode. I took the opportunity to explain to him how RSS powers feed readers (I use and pay for Feedly) as well as podcasts.

This stuff sounds obvious and easy when you’ve grown up with the open web. But given that the big five tech companies seem to be trying to progressively de-skill consumers, we shouldn’t be complacent.

By going to websites as a deliberate reader, you’re making a conscious choice about what you want a media outlet to be—as opposed to letting an algorithm choose the thing you’re most likely to click on. Or! As opposed to encouraging a world in which everyone is suckered into reading something with a headline optimized by a social media strategist armed with nothing more than “best practices” for conning you into a click.

Kamer blames Facebook, and given its impact on the news ecosystem, he’s correct in doing so:

Their goal, as a company, is to keep you on Facebook—and away from everything else—as long as they possibly can. They do that by making Facebook as addictive to you as possible. And they make it addictive by feeding you only the exact stripe of content you want to read, which they know to a precise, camel-eye-needle degree. It’s the kind of content, say, that you won’t just click on, but will “Like,” comment on, and share (not just for others to read, but so you can say something about yourself by sharing it, too). And that’s often before you’ve even read it!

It’s a great read. Why not start by adding Thought Shrapnel’s RSS feed to your shiny new feed reader? There’s plenty to choose from!

Source: Mashable