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The Latest vs. The Most Important

Facing info overload, I ponder more efficient ways to find what’s newsworthy

I don’t necessarily want to give up Twitter, Google+, blogs, Zite, and so on. But it’s clear: they’re too much for my single core, ADD-prone brain to manage. Gone are the days when I try to consume, or even just scan, all the social media I’ve signed up for. I’ve tried drinking from the Internet’s firehose and what I’ve ended up with is a wet face and a headache. After a couple recent experiments in offline living I’m sold on the idea that, for me, less is more. I think more clearly, and more creatively, when I unplug. It seems kinda obvious but it’s taken me a decade or so to figure out: info-gorging leaves me feeling fat-headed and logy. Now, for example, rather than web surfing and info snacking in the morning, I get up early and read whatever book I’m into for an hour or two.

I do try to carve out an hour or two each day for some focused exploration—digital publishing and design are my main areas of interest—but even there I’ve given up stressing that I might miss some Seriously Important Item. There’s just no way I can see everything that comes out. I figure if something’s really important I’ll catch it somewhere; I’m sure I miss plenty using this system, but all in all I feel less scatterbrained.

But here’s the thing: for some topics—what’s happening in Afghanistan, the debt crisis, toddler management—I’d like to figure out a way to stay informed without getting overwhelmed. I don’t want a newsfeed on any of these topics. What I want is something I’ve started to think of as News Gems: the best of what’s out there, updated only when something new has happened or when something notable has been written. And I want it presented in a way that’s more compelling than a list of links. I want something that’s more like the cover of a magazine, where typography, titling, and visuals all combine to say: “Hey, Pete! Look at this, it’s slightly more important than that. And over here, you might also be interested in this.” A sporadically delivered email or text alerting me to new stuff would also be nice; it’s gotten to the point where I more or less ignore email alerts that show up each day.

What are you doing to stay on top of the topics you care about? Shoot me an email [peter DOT meyers; gmail] and I’ll add a running list to the bottom of this post.

Reader Responses

  • Keni Arts reports that he reads news/tech reports on his iPad each morning for 45 minutes, though he’s looking to cut back to half an hour. His sources include Newsy (news compilation service comprised of video clips), RSS feeds, and Zite. Love the idea of budgeting how much time you devote; keep it open-ended and you risk surfing away your day.
  • Tom Haynes shares a blog post he wrote last year in which he offers the revolutionary idea that news sites like CNN could, on slow news days, “just say ‘no news’ and people can go about their days”. Love it!
  • Sara Thomson shares a blog post she wrote about using Google Reader to prioritize “ruthlessly”. And Robert Desçhênes also chimes in with a vote for Google Reader to “stick to one major news outlet from the nearest major city, one on the local news, couple blogs of interest and that’s it. Keeps it simple.”