Declaring Media Bankruptcy
Everyone wants your time. More accurately: many want your attention, and you pay with your time.
Capturing attention is challenging, as most folks are already rather overwhelmed. As a result, those whose livelihoods depend on making others look, are skillful. They’re masters at drawing you in.
Determining what’s worthy
One effective way of commanding an audience’s attention is to convince them they’re missing out. A business book offers strategic advantage. A fun video presents a moment of escape. A housing article teases with prognostication on market changes. Meanwhile, a dubious email promises life-saving health insight.
Some of these propositions are valid. Determining which ones are worth taking time for, though, is challenging. Increasingly, I feel like I’m falling behind—and need to catch up.
My Instapaper reading list seems endless. My unread Kindle purchases are many (my unread Kindle samples are even greater in number). This says little of the bookmarks, notes, and other assorted lists (of things to read, watch, listen to, and do), which I attempt to maintain.
The most embarrassing part? I can’t even manage the backlog. Trying to sort such items, and prioritize the most important ones, is too daunting a job. So, today, I give up. I admit that I won’t ever catch up—and I don’t even want to bother. You heard right—I’m declaring media bankruptcy.
Forget about it
Perhaps you’ve heard the adage about the things you have in storage: if you haven’t opened those boxes in one year, don’t bother. Instead, donate the lot to charity and move on—because if you didn’t need the contents for an entire year, you never will.
I’m employing the same tack with media—by taking the following steps.
First, I uninstalled Instapaper, outright. If I want to read an article, I’ll read it then and there. I will no longer hit that Read Later button and pretend I’ll “someday” get to that article.
Second, I deleted all but two books from my Kindle app. Once I compete these, I’ll look for another—but not before. Although I enjoy reading, that list of unread titles mocks my inability to follow through.
Third, I’m unsubscribing from every email newsletter I receive—even the ones sent by friends. A lot of these messages contain useful information. I can’t keep up, though. So, everything must go!
Avoiding delicious temptation
Then, there’s social media. I could make a promise to quit Facebook and Twitter (and I have before), but doing so isn’t viable, given my profession. That’s why I’m taking a different approach to those networks. Instead of leaving, I’m going to try to avoid commenting and “following the bait.”
Truth is, I don’t think my responses on Reddit and Facebook do much—in spite of how long I take to write them. So, I’m going to try to be quiet, for a while. Maybe I’ll post an occasional smile, “thanks,” or like. That said, I’m doing my best to avoid lengthy retorts (which probably make me seem like a blowhard, anyway).
Similarly, I realize that most of the content I click on is inciteful garbage. A comedian uses fat-shaming to become famous; A dullard makes a mockery of the presidency by channeling hatred; A redneck shouts racist slurs at a photographer.
Seeing such things inevitably leads me to react. But is this momentary outrage worth much of anything? Am I not just playing into someone else’s plan when I respond in this way? Perhaps, I just need to avoid clicking on such links, altogether.
I don’t need to know
Of course, the outrageous content I mention isn’t all that I’m trying to avoid. I’m doing the same with lists of bands to listen to, programs to watch, websites to check, and so on.
Product Hunt showcases great new ideas. Smart folks release compelling new podcasts—which I enjoy listening to. Meanwhile, there’s no shortage of insightful new blog articles to read. I know there’s lots to learn from all these—but that’s not my job.
This is the curious part about all this media: processing it starts to feel like a job. Honestly, though, most if it is a distraction. As I look back, I realize that little of this information has ever directly benefited my work.
A year after finishing art school, I bought a small house, and painted in the basement. Most days, I woke late, and brewed a lot of strong coffee. I then had about 5 hours to focus on my paintings and drawings. After my evening shift at the newspaper, I returned home, for another 3 hours of focused work.
Those days weren’t always easy. Some days I felt lost, and wanted to quit. On others, though, I created work I was proud of. Most important: having a brush/pencil in my hand, and cup of coffee in the other, represented a sort of peace. There were few distractions, and—on certain days—I was able to concentrate on what was in front of me.
Over the past months, I’ve had a few similar days—when email is slow, the phone doesn’t ring, and I avoid opening a browser window. On these occasions, I find myself able to truly focus on what’s in front of me. As these days come to a close, I feel as though I’ve done a good day’s work.
Maybe I’m deluding myself, but I think I can make a positive contribution to those around me. Yet, there are only so many hours in a day. If I squander those on distractions, I’ll never accomplish what I’d like. So, instead of looking at what others are up to,* I’m going to concentrate on doing something of my own.
* I acknowledge that this choice will result in me being ignorant to many new internet memes. This is the price I pay. ;-)