There are many parts of being smart. One of the most important parts is consuming and processing what others say. Most of our ideas and thoughts aren’t original. They’re reflections of, responses to or minor refinements of what others have thought. Even the ideas we have more often than not spring from debates, topics and thoughts we’ve interacted with. The point here is that your information diet matters and it matters a lot.
What problems do people typically have with their information diet? I think there are two:
- Not consuming as much high quality information as they would want
- Consuming too much low quality information Missing out on high quality information is bad because you miss out on important ideas, arguments or insights you could otherwise have had. Consuming low quality information is often bad because it wastes time but also is usually optimized to be addictive and, in the case of things like politics or clickbait news, will actively corrupt you into being more tribal.
(I’m intentionally not digging more into what makes a source "high quality" or "low quality" That’s a whole other rabbit hole and not super relevant to the point of this article)
If you want to optimize your information diet, there are many different things you can do. I think one of the most important is to look critically at the method through which you subscribe to and receive information. I think there are a few such methods people commonly use:
- A social media feed (facebook, twitter etc…)
- A subscription to (or just regularly checking) a certain newspaper website, magazine or other media source
- A email subscriptions
- Just randomly clicking around to sites/blogs they remember not checking for a while
There are a few problems with these methods.
The problem with email is that it doesn’t scale. It’s easy to subscribe to 10 or so newsletters or blogs but once you’re subscribed to dozens or hundreds your inbox will be flooded.
The problem with randomly clicking around is that
- you forget sources over time
- you can be influenced by the addictiveness of sources. The more addictive/seductive a source is, the more you’re likely to remember it and navigate to it.
- it’s high effort and that means you typically won’t do it that much.
The problems with traditional media is
- You’re relying on a single source with it’s own political biases and gatekeeping
- Most traditional media caters to normal people. Normal people are tribal, irrational, and generally pretty stupid. Hence most media is of low quality. Even high-brow sources like the Economist don’t compare well to blogs like SSC or Scholars Stage
The problem with social media is:
- It’s optimzied to be as addictive as possible and will alter your feed to show you the things you are most likely to click on.
- It’s won’t show you everything you subscribe to. Only a filtered subset of it.
- It will often reinforce filter bubbles by filtering out content it thinks you won’t like/engage with and filtering in content you will like.
- There’s political bias/censorship.
- Most goods blogs and news sources aren’t on social media.
Still bad is relative and unless there’s a better alternative, these criticisms mean nothing. I think there is an obvious alternative. RSS. RSS is a standard for publishing changes to a resources. Almost all websites you’re likely to consume content from use it. Using RSS, you can pull changes/updates from a website and essentially get a site specific newsfeed. Using an RSS reader, you can essentially subscribe to any website/blog/youtube channel and organize those streams of content into one or many newsfeeds. You can then interact with those streams in a simple, low effort way much as you would with social media.
This is what my RSS feed app looks like at the moment: ![[FeedlyScreenshot.png]]
I can have hundreds of sources, most of them high-quality blogs that publish less than once a month. No one filters those sources. No one censors them. No one tries to make them more addictive.
I can segment it, having one feed for high quality smart info and another feed for tribal partisan stuff I dip into once a month to get a feel for the pulse of the political climate.
I can dip into it whenever I need stimulation/am bored. Rather than a bus ride wasted on scrolling facebook, I instead scroll through my smart feed, pick an article and end up usually having spent my time well and enriched my mind.
It’s amazing and brilliant and more people should do it. If you don’t, I strongly recommend trying it.