Cutting out the alorithmic media feed

A resolution for 2020 and beyond

productivity

This blog was originally titled: "Thoughts on programming, culture, and language", but it soon became clear to me that most entries will concern neither culture nor language.

However, this entry will be about culture.

I've been worried about my online media consumption for a while now, and keeping up with authors like Cal Newport, I've slowly come to realize that I need to change my habits. But it was only during a conversation with a friend at this year's New Year's Eve party that I was able to define exactly what I'd like to change. This friend said that he was concerned about his 'social-media-reading' mode, by which he meant the mindless kind of scrolling-and-picking-out-interesting-bits that happens when reading infromation from a list online.

He also said specifically: it's a way of reading 'feeds'.

This made something really click for me: the problem isn't so much with social media per-se, or even with the short forms that dominate it. The problem is that these tidbits of information are being fed to us by algorithms, constantly optimized to maximize engagement.

Until now I didn't have a good way of framing the problem, and I kept getting caught up in excuses and particularities: site X was important to look at because Y, etc. But this new criterion makes things very easy:

Do not consume media from algorithmic feeds.

This includes human-powered algorithmic feeds, such as hacker news & similar sites. In definitely includes Twitter and LinkedIn.

I will be taking a more proactive approach to reading: going through the books I have Tsundoku'd, reviewing the papers and tutorials accumulated on my disk as PDF files, keeping up with my RSS feeds, and visiting quality websites such as ACM queue.

Have a Happy 2020!