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Information Overload

Jul 27, 2020

I’m currently running the beta version of iOS 14 so every time I run across something I haven’t seen before I’m not entirely sure if it’s new or if it’s just a feature I’ve never bothered to find before now. In exploring the beta I found this option within Safari’s settings:

Automatically close Safari tabs

Automatically close Safari tabs

It looks like Apple added this option in iOS 13 and I’m only now finding it, which isn’t super surprising as I’m only now fully grasping the iPad’s split screen abilities…years after they were introduced. I truly feel like I’ve hit the old man phrase of using technology.

Anyway, I love this setting. I’m one who will have countless Safari tabs open, either because I’ve forgotten them or because I have good intentions of reading them and then never do. I’ve had at some points upwards of 20 tabs open with various articles I totally mean to read but never get around too. Sure I could dump them in Instapaper, but for whatever reason I invariably end up just leaving them there forelornly waiting for me to never return like the whaler’s wife waiting for her husband to return from sea.

It’s a bad problem and it’s part of my struggle with information overload. So many things to read and yet it’s easy to file things off to some abandoned corner of my domain where I can pretend I’ll read them but never do until they’re hopeless outdated and I just close them with regret. Now I can have Apple silently make them disappear and I’ll probably never notice. In other words I can have Apple automatically declare information bankruptcy for me, something I tend to do far less than I should. Just like I fail miserably to curate and prioritize my media diet. And because I promised myself I’d write something, anything, on a regular basis, here’s how I attempt to deal with information overload.

First, news is basically just sophisticated junk food. It’s like the energy bars that bill themselves as health foods but in reality are just giant blocks of sugar. News feels like it’s good for you, after all you’re reading stuff. But most news is not all that important for your personal wellbeing. It’s critical to be knowledge of the world around you, for example know about China’s continued oppression of Uighurs, but you’re not required to be hooked up to the news firehose or read every last thing. Curation is important. Prioritize local news and expand outward, focusing on things that will directly impact you. If you’re on Twitter prioritize actual people (especially those you have connections to) over organizations and site feeds. Be cognizant of the news coming out of Washington but realize you don’t need to know the latest story the minute it breaks, it’ll be there in a few hours or the next morning. People in the 1920s were no less literature of the world around them because they got their news in the morning or evening newspaper.

Secondly don’t be afraid to give up on stuff, whether it’s a book, TV show, or yes, the article you promised yourself you’d read but haven’t read in the last week. If you don’t hoard stuff in real life because you might abstractly use it at some point in the future, don’t hoard articles or videos you’ll never read/watch. Hence the beauty of the iOS setting that sent me down this rabbit hole. Make it a habit to regularly clear out tabs, or Instapaper/Pocket articles you filed away and haven’t read months later. It’s fine to give up on some stuff, I promise.

In an ideal world here’s how my system works:

  • I subscribe to a handful of email newsletters through Feedbin’s option to subscribe to them essentially as RSS feeds. If I find myself regularly marking newsletters are read without actually reading them I unsubscribe. The beauty of Feedbin’s system is it makes unsubscribing easy and it leaves email for emails I actually need to respond to, so I’m not checking my email as often just to read newsletters.
  • I subscribe to a number of websites through RSS as well. Finding RSS feeds is increasingly a pain but usually a google site of “RSS site:example.com” will yield a buried website page. If there’s something I want to read and I can’t read it when checking my feeds I leave it unread for when I have time. If Sunday night rolls around and I still haven’t read it, I either read it, put it in Instapaper if I truly cannot part with not reading it, or mark it as read. Like automatically closing tabs bankruptcy is a weekly affair, and it’s ok.
  • I set my web browser to open a new window when I close it instead of opening up tabs from previous sessions. This way I have to process the tab before closing Safari, either by reading it or filing it to Instapaper. No more continously open tabs for days on end. My laptop battery thanks me.
  • Every month or so I reassess my Instapaper archive. Many articles (say all the ones on Pandemics I filed as to read at the start of social distancing) end up simply being things I never get around to until they’re either dated or no longer interesting to me. I usually get rid of 20-30 articles in this process.

A lot things, in other words, go unread. And I’m fine with that because a lot of things get read too. And like a buffet, sometimes my stomach seems bigger than it is and it’s best to stop rather than make myself sick, or in the case of the news, depressed and angry.