I graduated from high school majoring in eight subjects: Art, my native Dutch language, English, French, German, Greek, History, and Math. This set of subjects was often referred to as a ‘fun package’ since it’s composed of so many ‘alpha’ subjects. Not necessarily so, reading nearly a hundred books for interviews on literature in a foreign language wasn’t my idea of fun during the final year. Being students, we cheated of course. For Greek, for example, we went to the library to get a copy of Plato’s The Cave translated into Dutch and copied the text in our own notebooks. We read the books under 150 pages and learned the summaries of the other books by heart for the other languages.
I can vividly remember the night when I was preparing for my interview on Dutch literature. It was 8 o’ clock in the evening, and I still had to ‘read’ eight more books. This meant that I had to catch up on a single book every 1,5 hours, this was tough even with the summary and additional newspaper articles. (I didn’t have the luxury of the Internet yet back in 1998.)
Reading just the summary of a highly acclaimed literary achievement didn’t make me feel particularly good about myself back in the days as a student. I knew I was missing out on fine subtleties and much of what’s between the lines. There was no time or opportunity to actually enjoy reading a book nor could I form my own opinion about a book.
You get the message so let’s get to the point. Catching up on RSS feeds and the online news, very much feels like doing homework and who doesn’t hate doing his or her homework? When I’m trying to catch up on 1000+ unread items, I get the very same feeling I had preparing for those interviews on literature 10 years ago. Too much homework leads to overload, overload leads to distortion, and news distortion is dangerous.
Even though TechMeme and linkblogs of shared feed items serve as reasonable summaries and pointers for further reading, I know I’m still missing out on unique and original content on the web. Scanning headlines and/or hitting the ‘Mark all as read’ button in Google Reader feels like sin against content, those small little gems of posts will never catch my attention again, ever.
Unfortunately, I’m unable to match Robert Scoble, who can read over 600 feeds a day through a process of impression, scanning headlines, keywords, and post authors, and structuring based on current events (or something like that). To compare, I’m subscribed to some 350 feeds, read between 150-250 items a day, most of which I read in the morning and on Mondays.
Should I cut down on the number of feeds I’m subscribed to? Probably yes. But it doesn’t really solve my problem. Overload is inherent to today’s publishing craze. And most websites and blogs seem to agree that more is better, thereby only adding to more overload. Everywhere on the web we see links and suggestions along the lines of More like this, Related posts, You might also be interested in, and Customers who bought this, also bought that. Nice attempts to catch my attention, but hardly ever useful. To be honest, I’m not interested in more at all, there’s so much content coming at me already on a daily basis. More isn’t going to catch my attention anymore, I want less and deeper content and/or a better way to structure it around themes, topics, and personal interests.
I’m afraid of becoming fed up with the news like I got fed up with the news on television, I’m also afraid that the joy of reading disappears when RSS overload kicks in. What is the solution then? I honestly don’t know. An ideal service would be one that is able to cope with overload and summarizes the news for me, personalizes and/or ranks it based on my reading preferences, and preferably, a service that encourages me to think and engage with the news, not just to follow it. Do you know of any such service?
Or, like Robert Scoble says at the end of this video, should I just forget about it and is ignorance bliss after all? Nah, it isn’t.
And by the way, I passed all my interviews and exams.