On Everything and Nothing & Reading and Not Writing

I have a Fear of Missing Out on the best links and stories of the day, hesitant of taking breaks from Twitter — of jumping off the moving train — because I feel it will be harder to jump back on, to catch up to everyone else, to saturate myself in all that’s relevant again, to know what now is.

I love the Atlantic’s “What I Read” series, in which figures in the media and other public spheres describe how they deal with information overload, what they read, and how and when they read it. I especially liked what Sasha Frere-Jones said about Twitter—”It’s like the best newspaper you couldn’t possibly design”—and how he acknowledges there are too many people saying too many things on the Internet, all the time.

And we just can’t read everything.

I met my boyfriend in a cafe one afternoon, and he had finished reading articles he saved on his Kindle. What he said was interesting: how he read all those stories, yet didn’t take away anything particularly important or memorable. As if, at the end of the day, not much is gained from scouring and consuming as much as we can on the Internet.

So I learn of an earthquake halfway across the world, in Italy, moments after it happens. Or I read that Steve Jobs or Whitney Houston or Adam Yauch have died from seeing the endless stream of RIP tweets as the news breaks. This is information I will hear anyway, at some point, through word of mouth, or flipping through a newspaper, or some other way.

So, why must I know first?

I don’t like the idea of missing something, even if something was nothing. I experience this need to know on Twitter, not Facebook; I could care less about missing out on what my friends on Facebook are doing. But on Twitter, I hate the thought of missing out on trending topics and ideas shared between the minds I’ve chosen to follow. I follow less than 100 accounts—a manageable amount—and that makes me more inclined to scroll past every single tweet, each day, because I can. It’s as if I check off a task on my To Do list each time I scroll through my feed to reach the most recent tweet. I also feel an irrational sense of accomplishment when I clear my Instapaper list, which occurs either in the morning, as I read stuff on the Internet over two cups of coffee, or in the evening, when I read articles I’ve saved throughout my work day.

Sometimes I envision my Twitter feed as rushing water: my presence is a dam, and each tweet is debris making its way downstream. It’s now a challenge to let information simply flow—to let tweets swim by without me seeing or interacting with them. But because of this constant, obsessive reading and absorbing of everything on the Internet, I cannot write.

I have several posts I’ve been picking at since early spring that I’ll likely not finish. One piece tackles (in)authenticity, which I began after reading posts on hipster cabin porn, and then Matt Pearce’s wonderful piece on Instagram and Hipstamatic, and then Facebook buying Instagram, and then variations and takedowns of all of these. Each time I read something on the Internet about authenticity (or faux-authenticity), I return to shape mine—adding, deleting, adding, deleting, and then reading something else, and then adding and deleting again.

I am a slow thinker, and an even slower writer. I don’t react and write as fast as everyone else, and wonder how others have the time to write something, and why I wasn’t writing something, and maybe if I spent all day thinking and reading and writing I could also generate something—something relevant, not something after everyone else has moved on.

But I’m paralyzed from Twitter and the resources that provide the brain food I crave—curator’s emails of must-read links (like @brainpicker‘s newsletter), WordPress’ following feature of blogs, fellow bloggers’ reading roundups (like Miranda’s What I Read This Week), and weekly recaps like Nieman Journalism Lab’s This Week in Review. And I now receive Twitter emails summarizing the stories shared in my feed, which are representative of my activity, but . . . there’s just too much to respond to. I wonder when we’ll come to a point where I could hire my own personal curator—someone who knows my interests and what I like to read, and who could send me one handpicked link each day.

Because that’s all I need. One intriguing, thoughtful story per day, relevant to my interests, rather than a flood of information that passes through me, three-fourths of which doesn’t add real value to my day. I think of this Berfrois piece I read yesterday on art, advertising, short attention spans, and the speed of modern life—aside from a few quick posts, this was the only thing I read yesterday, and it’s been marinating the past 24 hours, calling me to muse on it.

It’s this sort of inspiration I seek on the Internet, and why I like to read. But clearly, the inundation prevents this spark.

More reading:

Published by Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Senior editor at Longreads / Automattic

135 thoughts on “On Everything and Nothing & Reading and Not Writing

  1. After reading this, I noticed it was written five years ago, but still completely relevant. Thanks for the new ‘best of’ in the header. I deleted my Facebook and Twitter last November after we elected Trump. I kept thinking how ridiculous his tweets were and then realized that I was part of the problem. I actually don’t miss Facebook at all, but there is something alluring in Twitter. I’m committed to at least staying off of it for a year though, and then we’ll see. I’ve felt like I’ve run out of things to say lately, or at least to share, and feel a little overwhelmed when I see the scope of the news and writings and wonder what the necessity is of having my imprint on it anyways. It’s been positive for me though, returning to previous obsessive habits like listening to music and just enjoying, not having to be a part of it, and being okay with that.

  2. I have been feeling this lately…and not liking the feeling. So I picked up Virginia Woolf and turned off my computer. Not to be noble. But to test myself, fight the urges. Like too much chocolate makes me fat, too much internet reading makes me bloated and heavy-lidded, and slightly nauseous (all that staring at the screen). I’m a new blogger, making new blogging friends and trying to make time for these relationships in my life. It’s a modern challenge. I wrote my first novel when I still didn’t have internet or a smartphone-no, not years ago; recently. But now that I’m fully equipped for the modern age, I wonder how I will ever finish my second one…

  3. I relate to this post so very much. We live in an age of hyper-choice, where hundreds of thousands of songs, articles, ideas and films are ours for the taking; we simply need to decide which to devour first.

    I used to feel guilty if I didn’t read the paper back-to-back, and catch up on my (extensive) Twitter feed, and read 100 pages of my book, and watch something informative on catch-up…. I used to feel that I’d be at a disadvantage socially, intellectually and culturally if I hadn’t absorbed everything the world put in it’s shop window, but recently I’ve reassessed that belief, and come to accept that a few quality bites of cake is better than eating the whole thing, and so quickly that it doesn’t touch the sides.

    In other words, better to go and watch the ballet once, then read 5 reviews about it.

    Thanks for this post, it’s reminded me to stop trawling manically for inspiration and contemplate what I’ve already read today.

  4. Yes, for just one month, a week, or even an hour, I would give my left lung to know that I did not regret the time invested in reading what I thought was vital to creating a bigger brain, a savvy opinion or an integral piece to the puzzle of life I’m struggling with daily.

    I detest the way our society is manufacturing this “missing out” mentality and have decided from now on, when I begin to grow overwhelmed, I will stop everything, sit down to read a chapter of Little House on the Prairie and reacquaint myself with just how simple things can be. Then I will fire up the old moonshine still and reacquaint myself with how they dealt with the stresses of the time.

    Pa? Where’s yer fiddle?

  5. Reading your articles makes me feel inspired yet discouraged. It’s always refreshing to see writers be so honest about this. I love what you said about your stories possibly ageing in your head, I always have the issue where I’ll be thinking of my issue that I want to write about and in my head it will be great but when I sit down well…it’s something else. I think I need to learn patience, and that’s something you definitely seem to have! Anyway, thanks for being a new inspiration for me!

  6. “how he read all those stories, yet didn’t take away anything particularly important or memorable. As if, at the end of the day, not much is gained from scouring and consuming as much as we can on the Internet.”

    I’ve been thinking these exact things lately. And trying desperately to pare down in all areas. Activities, stuff, mental input. I find myself feeling anxious to soak everything up, each email, each tweet, each blog post in my reader… and then even more anxious when they all pile up after only a few days, or worse, a week. And like your husband said, the times that I sit down and make the effort to sort through it all and read and update… too many times I come away with maybe a few gems of thought that is easily buried by the surrounding info overload that I can hardly remember what it was that had intrigued me.

    I just came across your blog today, and I hesitated to add it to my feed because of what I just described… but it’s been so long since I’ve come across a blog that conveys actual thought process instead of being a series of recipes or family ramblings or “expert” advice. It’s so refreshing and provoking and I’ve only read a few posts, but so far… I really love what you’re doing here.

    1. What a wonderful note to receive — thanks. I must admit I’ve not been writing regularly here because I’m drowning in work, but whenever stuff brews, I manage to put thoughts down (eventually!).

      I like this line: I can hardly remember what it was that had intrigued me. I totally know what you mean, and still feel the same as I did when I wrote this particular post earlier this year.

      Thanks for your comments — especially when you say my blog is unlike a blog that, say, writes “expert” advice. I tend to think and muse my way through my posts — I try not to say what’s right or wrong or good or bad, but merely what I see and feel. So, I appreciate your note.

  7. “Sometimes I envision my Twitter feed as rushing water: my presence is a dam, and each tweet is debris making its way downstream.” If your slow thinking and slow writing produces such brilliant gems as this, then please do not rush. As you said in your tweet, let your pieces age. You captured Twitter perfectly with your metaphor, and it is worth however long it took to ripen.

    1. What a sweet, kind comment. I’m glad you identify with some of what I’d expressed here, especially on the rushing stream that is Twitter. Thanks for visiting.

  8. “The thing about never having time to write is the piece in my head keeps shifting. It’s annoying. Or perhaps it’s good to let it age.”

    I love it! >^^<, first time I read yer blog and will do so again ")

    Storytelling at it's best, Live!
    By young authors who battle out their skills in turn.

  9. In our current social environment, “the-know” or being in it, is the currency. This is what drives our appetite for cultural information. We can sometimes become absorbed into groups that enthusiastically enjoy a particular thing like sports or understand a particular concept like computer programming. Eventually we get to a point where it becomes unacceptable to be “out-of-the-loop” and so we become driven to intake everything, whether we retain it or not. We hope that we retain enough to be able to receive and question on a relevant subject. It has stopped being about the concept and more about the understanding.

    In our case, it is in a much more general sense. That is why it is noticeable. Because it is a much more daunting task. What we experience here is an addiction to understanding the present. The present as, by definition, a completely ever changing concept is impossible to ever fully understand for any longer than it takes for the present to become the past.

  10. I’m completely the same way. I’m thinking, maybe, we want to find that thing in all the mess that speaks to us, but it’s hard to know where it’ll come from and we don’t want to settle for the mediocre version. Because maybe in the morning over a bowl of cereal we find something that sounds pretty good, but then, somewhere around lunch was the actual perfect paragraph we needed to read and we’ll never know it unless it goes viral or something. Maybe it’s the need to connect and the fear that if we’re not on the platform, we’ll miss out when everyone else is talking about a single solitary thing, even though that may never happen. The best thing you read all day may never be worth it for a grand number of people.

    1. Glad you could relate to this! I agree: “we want to find that thing in all the mess that speaks to us, but it’s hard to know where it’ll come from…”

  11. Two quick notes to this post, Cheri.

    1. International users may not be able to watch the video in the comments. I recommend Hotspot shield for this issue.

    2. Those of us utilize Twitter but understand a character limit of 140 is not enough, can utilize Twitlonger.

    Hope that brings easy solutions for other readers. 🙂

  12. The droning, the droning on and on. In the desert the fathers found the silence.

  13. I love how you said,”It’s as if I check off a task on my to do list each time I scroll through my feed…” That’s exactly how I feel when I read blogs, check updates from my friends on facebook, and even check each individual email account. Lol..it could be a problem but, I feel better and better with each check mark.

  14. I absolutely hear you on fear of missing out and yet, I am inclined to agree with your boyfriend. I go through these internet-induced anxiety fits when I am away from the computer because I experience overwhelm at catching up. As your boyfriend and my boyfriend say, however, little changes… There is little that compares to life itself as we are living it. If only it were so easy to slowly dive back into the digital world without worrying about all the unread items, the tweets that went by and we’ll never see…

  15. So take a break! When it comes to food, ever tried fasting? Same thing with reading and writing and even speaking. We need more time to savor and to digest … as the slow food movement tells us. Same thing with words. I love coming back to something great decades later.

    1. “I love coming back to something great decades later.” << THIS. I love this. It pretty much summarizes my game plan for revisiting past essays and ideas I have that aren't ripe enough.

  16. thank you so much for this. I stumbled onto your post this morning when i was looking at things on the internet before i was fully awake, your words struck so many chords with me and I wanted to say thank you! I had to reread it again when i was awake because not only do I want to check out the links you mentioned, I wanted to comment and tell you that I get so overwhelmed with the internet that I feel like I can’t even find the right way to get to the sites that will feed my brain. I feel like we’ve lost any boundaries of what is important.
    I love what Sasha said, that twitter is the best newspaper you could never design. I am really over facebook and all of it’s changes, it makes me feel like I can’t keep up with what’s going on and how to not get the stuff I don’t want.
    Also, how ever long it takes you to write your posts, please know that they are coming exactly when they are supposed to. If not I never would have gotten the chance to read this today. Thanks, so much for putting your thoughts and insight out into the world.

  17. I really enjoyed reading your post. Reading and writing will always combat each other. The question we must ask ourselves is… “Am I willing to do enough reading to write what I need to write?” A lot of people think of writing as a chore, but it should be something that, when published for others to read, they walk away with something that has impacted them in some way. The problem with living in the digital age is, people don’t know how to live in the real world. And I believe the best writing comes from those who take time away from the digital world.

    As a writer I’ve come to understand one thing. Reading should never overtake your writing, and writing should never overtake your reading. You cannot have one without the other, but if we learn to utilize what we read, siphon it into something manageable for us to use in our writing, we’ll become better writers because of it.

    So thank you for putting things into perspective.

    God Bless!

    J. B. Sisam

  18. Cheri, I read this when you first posted it and it has been rolling around my brain ever since. You’ve hit on something here that doesn’t just affect you and me (and most of these commenters); you’ve constructed an astute and complex statement about the modern social condition. To live in a society like ours (let alone try to write about it and keep up with things like reading, social media, social engagement) can easily breed a kind of free-floating anxiety and stress that is hard to locate, let alone understand and remedy. But a column like this one, which pinpoints so perfectly the issue and the feelings associated with it, can be a kind of antidote to that stress, for it’s anxiety-soothing to consider that a problem is not yours alone but shared by others operating under the same social forces. (I’m a sociologist/writer/teacher, so I can’t resist social theorizing — AND pointing out when it’s well done by others!) I really think you’ve done a public AND private service with this one, Cheri — you’re helping us better understand our modern selves and society. I’ll be citing this in my work. mc

    1. Mary, thanks so much for your thoughtful and kind comments. It was really nice to see such a response to this post. (And happy you enjoyed my latest at the Equals Project about (not) unplugging!)

  19. Touché! I feel like I am missing out on some interesting info even during the time it takes me to research something that got me curious in the first place. And while I am reading that, I look at some of the featured articles on that webpage, and get drawn into this whirlpool of articles that adds not net value to my reading experience. All this gives me is a false sense of accomplishment when I could have spent that time thinking and writing down something I am really passionate about!

  20. Well stated. I too feel ‘behind of sorts’ because it is impossible to read everything i’m interested in and write my own stuff or coach.

  21. Than God for this piece. I thought I was alone in thinking that I’m missing out on what everyone else knows. Especially being a student planning to go to grad school, this outlook has dire consequences.

  22. i’m definitely overwhelmed with all the internet has to offer, but i go in the opposite direction than you–i can barely look at twitter or postings, etc. because i just feel too inundated. but thank you for sharing! i really enjoyed this.

  23. This makes me glad that I don’t have a twitter account. One less thing to suck me in and consume my life. As it it, I have a bad habit of reading all the comments after articles (including yours) It does give you a very good idea of how people in general are feeling about things, and which way the wind is blowing, but it means I spend Hours sometimes on a single article. I have simply Got to limit how many comments I read per article. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

    1. Ah, comments. I actually am the opposite — I don’t really get too deep into reading comments in general (which has its pros and cons, I guess). But I agree — comment threads widen the context and give you a good idea of differing perspectives.

  24. I totally understand what you mean. I’m not so into Twitter. But I hate the way there’s such a lot on the Internet…you read so much but nothing seems to really stir your mind. I hardly find anything that inspires or challenges me intellectually, when that is the reason why I read, in the first place. Loved your post. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  25. Glad this is featured on WordPress, I too am always thinking about the balance of writing and reading, and especially knowing that there are great things on the Internet I’ll never get to and probably would be beneficial for me too!

    I too am a slow thinker and a slow writer.

  26. I had to quit blogging for years in order to write a novel, because even when I was only writing pitiful little posts, that and the accompanying surfing siphoned too much energy away. But once I developed a regular offline writing habit, I was able to start blogging and surfing in moderation and it really doesn’t interfere anymore. It’s become a lesser priority, not nearly as tempting…something I enjoy *after* I’d done my day’s fiction writing.

  27. I completely feel this…and with it, comes extreme guilt because I feel like I’m ignoring other important aspects of my life!! But then I remind myself that learning and gaining information is important and responsible (this justification doesn’t really work for twitter 😉 )

    Courtney Hosny

  28. How happy I was to read this 🙂 You’ve described my sentiments exactly. Enough is enough! Good for you for thinking of ways to set a personal limit. We could probably all gain from doing the same.

  29. I’ve definitely observed a difference in how I read the more important information-gathering on the internet has become to me. This past month I sat down (finally) with a book that’s been on my mind for going on a year and it literally took me two days to get my mind out of ADD, lets-click-every-link-mode and focus intently on one story for an extended stretch of time. Since, I’ve been trying to limit my internet time, but god its so hard when you’re a writer.

  30. True true, and so true. I guess you just have to switch it off once in a while, and realize you don’t have to be in on things at the same time as everyone else.

    It’s like videogames… do I really need to play the new game immediately just because everyone else is? Why can’t I take my time with it?

  31. I have a very good friend who shares your dilemma, he seems to manage writing-time and a 20-hour-a-day Twitter habit by being gainfully unemployed. That said he still spends forever rewriting things, to the point where they end up being about completely different topics.
    Personally my 3-minute attention span for all things internet related saves me from this particular problem; I don’t write enough for a whole host of other reasons…

  32. I think sifting through the information can be a part of thr process. Enjoy it, reading too much is a relatively tame sin after all. If it even is one. 😉

  33. Great post on a topic, that it seems, I am discussing daily with colleagues, clients and friends. Some days it does feel as if twitter is a giant “to do” list. Given the day and my motivation, I have found this can be good or it can be frustrating. Congrats on being fresh pressed!

  34. What a great blog. I can relate to this. You are a great writer. It doesn’t matter if you are fast or slow it is the quality that counts. I am a follower now.

  35. My husband once said that you have to capture your audience in the first 10 seconds. It is a shame because it is usually not until after reading something completely that we really understand the message out there. It has become about the WOW factor and that is a shame

  36. Very cool post. I often find myself hopping online to check my email, only to find myself on some dark corner of the Internet two hours later after several trips through Google and Wikipedia. I seem to have trouble retaining the information I read on these little internet binges. I can read about something, and immediately forget about it, which never seems to happen when I’m doing serious research for work. Maybe it’s just the sheer volume of information, my mind files it away as inconsequential and only caches it, instead of saving it to the old hard drive. I think you’re right though, it’s a lot more fulfilling to let something “marinate,” and actually have a chance to think about it. However, the demand for instant content and responses on the Internet really challenges that idea.

    1. “However, the demand for instant content and responses on the Internet really challenges that idea.” Exactly. And that’s what makes me anxious. I’d really like to be part of that flurry. But ultimately, that’s not how I write or operate.

      Thoughtful comment. Thank you.

  37. I have to admit the scrabble tiles caught my eye …and the not writing. I’m knee deep in two books I’m writing and somehow meandered into the blogging world and find myself “not writing”, I’m still figuring out why my intuition led me to blogging as I agree, it’s short, concise writing that can be like spinning wheels but no movement forward. Fortunately, I’m not on twitter and in being so new to the blogging world, I don’t have many I follow and feel that I’ll miss out if I don’t take heed right away. But then, I still write with fountain pen and spiral notebook or journal, then when it’s at the right level of unfolding, I then type on my laptop, which results in unfolding even more. I did, however, click the link to the cabin porn, and who knew! (at least I didn’t) but I can relate to longing for a simpler life…many of my observations and musings are about hawks and hummingbirds, or watching the cosmos pass by (I love the stars). Maybe the once piece to read everyday is the one you write? Be well ~Kristy


  38. I think Elena above is on to something if even in a watered down state. It seems lost the idea of garnering our understanding of the world and how we fit in it from actual experience and not being “fed” it by others. I love Twitter and Facebook for what it can do and how it can bring together people with brilliant ideas that might never have met before. I think its misuse comes in when it is relied upon as a sole means of interpersonal connection. We all fall into it and forget that as we sit and scroll through our feeds and retweets there is real life going on out there, a magnificent menagerie of colors, sounds, and cultures. I really appreciate this post as it has helped me remember this. Thanks so much!

  39. It is taking me a while to get the hang of Twitter, but I do enjoy reading tweeters’ stuff. It’s the microcosmic news as opposed to the big media.

  40. This is a really nice post and I feel much the same way. Of course, now you’ve given me something new to add to my reading list – your blog!

  41. This is why I don’t use Twitter. I don’t understand its appeal. I have Facebook and even that is overwhelming. I have an account of Twitter, but it’s an empty account. I don’t follow anyone, I don’t tweet, there’s nothing there. The best articles I’ve read are links I’ve seen on Facebook or things I found myself on news websites. There is too much noise on Twitter! It stresses me out.

    1. For me, Twitter and Facebook are totally different beasts, and over the past four years Twitter has become invaluable. Yes, there’s so much noise, but I get a great deal out of it (job/blog/writing project connections, entertainment from strangers, and a portal through which my relationship was nurtured). Took me a while to shape a feed that added value to my Internet time, but now I think I’m happy with whom I follow and, in general, what ideas swirl past me…

  42. We do have a lot of choice these days. Sometimes, when I’m sitting in front of the telly, I’ll go to check my Twitter on my phone realizing what I’m watching is not engaging. Then I’ll see a link to a blog post about indy publishing or something else I AM interested in (alternative philosophy, writing as craft) and lose myself in the tiny screen in my hand while ignoring the big idiot box on the shelf.

    Maybe I should just get up and turn off the TV? Or open a book.

    More choices…:)

  43. Thanks for sharing this! I’ve been wrestling with these issues lately as I’ve just left a job that demanded I know everything before anyone else. By the time I left I averaged 5000 emails a week, any downtime was spend staring at twitterfall.com, and calls at 4am (to fill me in on events around the world I was missing because of silly things like sleep) were common. There was so much info coming in that there was no time to actually process and turn that info into value!

    So I left for a simpler life – even got rid of wifi at my house – and I have so much more space now to try new things, invest in relationships, and just take care of myself. Yet often I still feel the urge to stare at my iPhone for the next email, tweet, or pin – hopefully I can find a new normal and some better boundaries to avoid information overload soon!

  44. I really agree with this, and you said it beautifully. Being inundated by so much news and information on a regular basis is exhausting. Though I love social media, it makes me so distracted and detracts from my ability to focus. And sifting through so much information is crazy. I always feel like I’m missing out on something and, at the same time, not gaining anything REALLY of value except 1-2 things. Sigh.

  45. another great article Cheri! I find the concept of an internet curator or an information curator an interesting one… perhaps that is what will soon be required to summarize large volumes of data and alleviate the information overload.

  46. Reblogged this on WashedUpDonuts.com and commented:
    Ditto on this feeling, the influx of information we receive daily becomes so self-prioritized in our heads, that sometimes the dutiful urgency of knowing all overcomes our genuinine interest in knowing what’s important to us first – although I feel like one day if I am approached by a thousand year old wizard, or a demon space monkey, who can bestow me with incredible superhuman abilities, then knowing everything first may come in handy. Hey, you can say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not… the only one.

  47. Hands off Twitter pls! I am a self-proclaimed twitter addict because its so short and to the point and there is so much interactions going on. While i am struggling not to follow too many account on twitter, i am a bit struggling with wordpress, how do you people find cool blogs to follow?

    1. It’s rather random — my process for finding blogs to follow on WordPress. A fair amount I’ve found via the home page/Freshly Pressed, as well as the tags (mainly photography, social media, and travel).

  48. Loved, loved, loved this. Especially your last line. Inspiration and spark and frustration seem to be somewhat cyclical, don’t they? You find inspiration, experience the spark, and tirelessly search for something to create an equal spark, an equal inspiration. And sometimes in the midst of it all, you get lost in just the sheer volume of everything. Regardless, thank you for this post!

  49. Yes, yes, yes! Currently writing, trashing, editing the hell out of and attempting to make relevant a submission for the Times. And am I making it better? No. I am reading my Twitter feed. Will I stop? No, I will not. Because I just read a killer article on military women who want to be glorified for breastfeeding in public in their Air Force uniforms. Wait, what was I writing about? Gah. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed. It’s the BEST. Bet you will now obsessively watch your stats for three days in addition to your burgeouning Twitter feed …

  50. I think that scrolly thing where they tell you how many messages are waiting to load makes it worse. You can go make dinner, come back to Twitter, and see that there are 78 unread messages waiting for you, which seems like a lot until you realize none of them are actually important…

  51. But…..Hurrah for ‘Freshly Pressed’!! because someone else at least trawls the net and brings the most relevant blogs to our attention! I’m so glad it’s not just me that’s got a slight Twitter addiction…..I also get really annoyed when my husband reads out FB posts on his i-phone to me that I’ve read hours ago, he’s so hopelessly out of the instantaneous gossip loop sometimes that I wonder how he is surviving in the modern world…..although travelling out to Uluru a few years ago and having (shock horror!) no phone or internet reception for three days was just gloriously liberating I have to say, we suddenly had space and time to do our own thinking. With every new internet chat-fest I discover I have one of those “Alan Harper in the bookshop/Two and a Half Men” moments….the one where he had a meltdown when he realised he couldn’t possibly read EVERYTHING he wanted to read………I’m currently working my way through all of today’s best blogs and yours is brilliant, writing that’s had time to mature like a good wine will always stand out ahead of news-feed pap.

  52. This fascinated me! Maybe, even if you fasted from all media, you would be inspired by whatever you run across anyway. There would always be a revision chasing circles around itself in your head. I’m not nearly so connected digitally, but I have noticed that my best writing occurs when my subconscious has time to chomp on something when I’m not really paying attention. Then, when it has to get down on paper or on the screen, it forces its way to the page. I wonder if anyone else has this same writing process.

      1. Thanks for the link! I used to make my students write a rough draft and the next day read through it a couple of times or with a partner, then put it under their desks and start over from scratch without looking at the original draft. The kids would moan and groan about all the extra work, but without fail, the second draft is always so much better than the first. It would usually surprise my real reluctant students how much more sophisticated the second draft would be. I picked up the idea in a writing workshop, but that’s where my theory about subconscious brain chomping came from. Every once in awhile, I follow that process myself. It always pays off.

  53. Glad to see this resonates with people! Cutting the numbers I follow on twitter from around 1500 to around 200 (and rising!) was the second best social media thing I ever did (the first was stopping Stumbleupon), though all it really did was improve the signal to noise ratio, and twitter remains a horrific time suck. As you know, I’m experimenting with ignoring my feed reader (and Facebook), and relying on the randomness of twitter for my juicy morsels of brain food. I know that I’ll learn about any ‘major events’ at some point or another (for whatever that’s worth, and I’m currently in a phase where I’m not convinced it really means anything), as well as resigned to the fact that I *will* miss stuff that I would find interesting. But here’s the thing, they would be interesting in the same way a piece of tin foil is interesting to a magpie, or that a cinnamon roll is ‘satisfying’. (And I think this is as true of ‘high culture’ as it is of celebrity gossip.) I consume so much that I don’t *think* about anything, and it makes me wonder what need I am feeding here? I maintain the conceit that I am well informed on a broad range of (important?) issues, yet I’d like to think I’m honest enough to admit I don’t *really* know jack shit about anything. And it’s surprisingly hard to recondition myself to the acceptance that missing ‘interesting stuff’ is ok, and that the world won’t end. Great post, and deserving of reflection… but for now I’m off to share it on twitter!

    1. “I consume so much that I don’t *think* about anything…” — Yes. There’s not much space for me to think about any one thing. I think since I’m so used to multitasking I assume I can consume and react at the same time, but that’s not the case.

      As for accepting that it’s okay to miss interesting stuff — I think an important, relevant story spreads far and wide, and if I miss it the first time, I’ll eventually come upon it. Maybe the next day, and if not, then the next week, or next month. Perhaps *these* stories are the ones to be really excited about — they are the ones with staying power, the ones I prefer to read.

      1. “I think an important, relevant story spreads far and wide, and if I miss it the first time, I’ll eventually come upon it.” — True, but only provided the original poster has enough of a social media footprint that the piece gets decent traction (someone please shoot me if I make a habit of writing sentences like that). Li’l gems often don’t spread as far and wide as (I think) they should, especially if the author is not well known.

        1. From what I see, the uber-curators of the web (Brainpicker and Kottke for general interestingness, Colossal and The Fox is Black for art and design, etc.) share links that are then shared by so many others, and this trickle effect makes it possible to come upon Any One Thing. Which is both good and bad, I think — it rewards the very best and interesting the Internet has to offer, but you’re right — the lil, obscure gems don’t spread far and wide, and it’s a shame.

          (For some reason, though, there’s something wonderful about corners of the Internet that remain overlooked and mysterious. A post for another time, perhaps…)

  54. Interesting post.

    I write full-time for a living and blog 3x a week. I don’t use Twitter at all and have lately found Facebook a more useful place for blog and story ideas and sources than cute pix of kitties.

    I cannot imagine trying to work as you do, with the time and energy you’re spending and I agree (with all due respect) with a few other comments here: read (good) books, travel, think, reflect. I don’t give a rip what “everyone” is talking about and won’t go nuts trying to find out — I read the NYT, WSJ, FT, magazines and books. I listen to NPR and BBC. Enough input!

    Too much data too fast is distracting and exhausting and crowds out the sort of thinking I need and want to do for my posts, articles and books, which is multi-disciplinary and, when possible, original.

    I would rather spend an afternoon biking or at a museum than reading other people’s opinions about almost anything. Why do you feel so compelled to keep up? What would happen (seriously) if you did not?

    1. If I did not keep up, nothing would happen. That world, that noise, that swirling space of ideas would still be there. It’s odd, this desire to keep up. But I understand why it’s there.

  55. First, congrats on the Freshly Pressed!

    Second, this is partly why I have a twitter account, but rarely (if ever) log in. I have two accounts automatically forwarded to SMS message – one for my local running store and one for my partner. But rarely go on, because it’s so often like trying to drink from a fire hydrant.

    Great post.

  56. This is all so true! Also, a little scary. I avoid Twitter like the plague and try to limit my Facebook participation. However, I have to say that I am a little hooked on WordPress and
    all the good posts that are offered daily from all over the world. I think I might have to put a “filter” on it soon as well. I love your style of writing. You Matter! Smiles, Nancy

  57. I couldn’t follow 100 people, i just would never have that kind of patients. But then again i do appreciate the ones i do follow and i guess i prefer not to have clutter in my account. Cause your right we do end up just scrolling past the messages and to me that’s not cool -,o


  58. I think this is exactly why I end up taking vacations from social media. For awhile, I was a fiend on my Twitter stream (and I follow way more people than you do… at least 1000+). Every free moment, I checked Twitter on my android and I kept it open in an extra tab in my browser at work. Then one day I felt so overloaded, I just wanted to scream. Too much noise, too much pressure, too many people doing too much stuff that made me question what I wanted to do or if I could do it or if my goals/dreams/thoughts were even worth sharing…

    So I quit. I think I went cold turkey from Twitter for several months this year… perhaps from March to just a few weeks ago. I found myself exploring Google+ instead and I enjoyed that… it is a much different medium, meant for slow consumption and engagement, and I have loved that.

    And still… I missed Twitter. I think Twitter is like people watching in a major downtown area or the big urban city park. There is so much life and flow and always something to peak your interest. I’ve just learned to be happy with dipping my toe in the stream for short bits rather than trying to fully consume everything. So far, this is working for me.

    Wonderful post–glad I had the chance to discover your blog! 🙂

    1. Really love your comparison of Twitter to a big urban city park!

      I think, from reading many of the comments here, that a fair amount of people look to “unplugging” or “social media vacations” as solutions to information overload — I actually don’t think that is the answer (while I find “unplugging” and “logging off” to be meaningless terms/actions in a world where we maintain augmented selves). For me, it’s about figuring out a way to use Twitter (and other social media tools) wisely and more effectively, not necessarily giving them up completely. But that said, I don’t think there’s one way to do things — it’s about figuring out what works for you.

  59. Fantastic Blog Cheri and a great post! It’s a vicious circle isn’t it? A huge part of what I do in life is done digitally, yet It’s not the most important part of my life. I want the best of both worlds without feeling the need to ‘keep up’. Fortunately for me, I CAN just walk away from social media for a while, especially if I need to concentrate on a particular project. But boy do things move fast when you unplug! You feel like you have so much to catch up on and you’ve only been away for a week. It’s trying to get that balance…iPhone in one hand and a paintbrush in the other 😉

  60. At least, you’ve shared with us the process you go through when writing.

    I like to describe my beginning process for writing a new piece as “letting the new ideas marinate,” but that may be only because I’ve spent the last 14 months writing a biography of a famous chef.

  61. Well, now more stuff for you to read and respond after being Freshly Pressed. (Congrats.!) I don’t follow hardly anything on Twitter. Don’t have Facebook yet. I don’t have a tv. But email, my blogs and Internet keeps me interested in the world around me.

    Oh, I don’t have a cellphone yet to experience the latest of blog notifications that WordPress.com has just offered to us.

    Is my life less richer? Maybe but then I’m cycling and not interested in answering an calls, emails.

  62. I like going “unplugged” once in a while to clear my head. Too many messages are breaking over us; to the point where we can’t remember any of it. I am sad that news magazines like “Time” and “Newsweek” get no attention until they put a photo of a 26-year-old nursing mother on the cover. Whatever happened to stories that covered one trend, phenomenon or issue in depth? People don’t have time for that any more. GREAT post!!!

  63. i’m not going to lie, you just spoke to my reading/writing soul haha. i write this as I’m contemplating how much longer I can read the freshly pressed blogs before i really, really have to get going to class. i’m very excited to read what else you have written. now following!

  64. Remember Phineas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days? Sitting in his 19th-century club in London reading the newspaper all day. How much did he remember and how much was important? One difference is that he might have gotten a satisfying feeling of everything being in its right place. Now, information comes at us in bits and from all over. But both this piece and the Berfrois one make us slow down a bit to read and think.

  65. Great post as I thoroughly enjoyed it! We have not jumped on the band wagon for Facebook or Twitter, as we only have our blog on WordPress. We feel that we would much rather be doing something else than posting updates all long on what we are doing to Facebook, rather we are enjoying life as it happens. I don’t know how all of you do it and keep up with it all, it blows my mind. I know our neighbor posts every little thing that happens in her life on Facebook and I don’t know how she does it. I enjoy life through photography, gardening and landscaping. Absolutely love your writing style and I will be back to read more of your posts!

  66. As a writer, self-pub indie, I’m online all day marketing and trying to get the story out there. I have to admit, I made so many Twitter friends that now, it’s a thing where I have to join them everyday. Does it all have to make sense? Nah. I just go with what makes me feel good. But I hear what you’re saying.


    http:valentinedefrancis.blogspot.com or http:valentinedefrancis.wordpress.com

  67. Interesting commentary on the ‘feeds.’

    Personally I have to keep myself at bay from too much of the electronic twirping or it makes it so I can’t think.

  68. I find your post ironic since I had my “Come to Jesus” moment this morning! I desire being on top of things too. I am sucked into the internet every day and yet I have to go back to my rewrite. The reason I started blogging was to build a following to roll out my book and what good will that be if there is no book!

    I dream of a day when we can make money blogging. I would rock as a professional blogger. I love writing really short stories and then interacting in comments and the social network.

    By the way. WHAT AM I DOING HERE? ……back to work……….
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  69. Ah…the flood of information can drown the spark of creation. I like this post. I like that you are a slow thinker–to me, it means that I can trust that you have been thought-full, and not just reactionary about a thing.

    Next time we meet let’s talk about advertising, speed of modern life and the brain…not to mention the soul.

    Good post.

  70. It’s interesting to me to see all of these “slow down the train” trends resurfacing every time a new communication method pops up on the net. When I was in grad school, it was rn. And it was JUST as addicting, time-wasting, and ultimately unproductive as Twitter. I think the world doesn’t yet realize that there is an entire generation of recovering overusers of the net who have already learned this. It’s kept me well clear of Twitter, just having gone through that already when I was much younger.

    Twitter is just a means of trapping you into spending your every waking moment watching everyone else living their lives instead of living your own.

    1. Like your thoughts here. Although I don’t think it’s that black-and-white with Twitter (or other social media tools) — there *is* value here, and it’s a matter of using it effectively. I don’t think I watch everyone else living their lives instead of living my own, but I can certainly see how using Twitter to create/replace rather than enhance could be unhealthy.

  71. I know the feeling! Blog subscriptions just build up in emails until there are hundreds of them and you know you should read them … and so one day you drop everything and just sit there and do that, and when you’ve finished, you’ve wasted a whole day. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is learning to recognise when it matters and when it doesn’t.
    Congrats on Freshly Pressed ;D

  72. solution – get rid of fb, myspace and twitter, then go travel… what the hell, go crazy… throw away your tv… works wonders! Go travel and learn not from endless feeds and status updates, but from real people and their cultures …


  73. I can relate. I am constantly reading, clicking through, and even sharing, news, articles, blog posts, etc. All because I feel they same something of importance…in the moment. But, like you said, a lot of times I don’t feel like I took away a lot. It’s not like they’re going to go anywhere. Somehow, I’ll come across that information again. A hand-picked link from a personal curator would be awesome! How’s that for a new job?

    1. I like your point about reading something important in that moment.

      Indeed, I’ve tweeted a few times about how I’d like my own personal curator. Actually, there are few people on Twitter who already act like this kind of resource — I’ll have taken a weeklong break from Twitter and then tweet, “So, what did I miss?” As a result, I get a few excellent stories to read, suggested by people who know my interests.

  74. Nice post! Your point about a false sense of accomplishment hit home for me. Often I find myself sitting down to write, much like I did today, and then stopping to read a few things first. Facebook, other blogs…and the more distracted I get seeing ‘squirrels’, the more my inspiration to compose my own idea lessens. The feeds are a drug, a quick fix to feel accomplished – rather than a real accomplishment, like what I would feel if I finished my own post. Once I get my accomplishment fix, I can move on – with my things still in draft mode.

    1. All well said. I feel the same re: pseudo-accomplishment, and the feeling of getting that accomplishment fix whilst my own work is still in draft mode.

  75. I find that I have naturally developed an alternating all-or-nothing schedule when it comes to consuming all this info. I’ll spend an hour or two going through blogs and then, usually over the weekend, I won’t look at any at all. Gotta retain my sanity.

    1. “alternating all-or-nothing schedule” — yes, totally. Over the past several months I’ve found myself taking 4 to 5-day breaks from Twitter, then come Monday morning I dive in again, for the rest of the week. Funny how we experiment with such schedules, but it makes sense as we’re figuring out how best to use it to fit our needs.

  76. I still think that a good book is always an inspiration. Twitter is for keeping up with things, but If you really want to write good, interesting worth reading material, you should read a lot of books, any kind of them, bestsellers, books about any topic at all, it helps, you start to crave the feeling of writing things down.

  77. I’ve noticed the same. The more I read FB, Twitter, and a host of daily blogs and news sites the less I am inclined to write. Which is kind of a problem for a person whose current job description is “Writer.”

    It’s impossible to keep up with all the tweeting. In the time it takes me to compose a simple tweet with a link to an interesting article I’ve read that morning, 20 more tweets show up in my stream. Twitter is one place where I feel very strongly that nearly everyone is talking and very very few people actually listen. And yet, it feels imperative to be there. Why is that?

    And when I say that, know that I’m not pointing fingers at anyone. I can’t keep up with all the new information streaming in either (much less have an intelligent 140 character per tweet conversation about it in real-time).

    My failure was depressing me. So like Miranda, I have embraced my less-than-timely inner child. I’ve taken FB, Twitter, & Google+ apps off my smart phone, and limit my FB, Twitter, social media interactions to first thing in the morning, over a cup (or two, depending on how interesting it all is) of tea.

    It’s not a great plan for attracting a bunch of followers, but really, if everyone’s Tweeting and no one is listening, does that really matter?

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    1. “Which is kind of a problem for a person whose current job description is ‘Writer.'” — YES! I feel you on this.

      Actually, I feel differently and do feel that people are listening. Maybe not everyone, but a fair amount. I think it’s less about the number of people and more the quality of their responses — my Twitter feed is full of extremely interesting and insightful people, and I value their replies (when they are listening).

  78. Good post. I use the “pulse” app on my iphone to check the major players for news briefs, then twitter and facebook to a lesser extent to keep in touch. I read the freshly pressed to see the few selected as noteworthy by wordpress….and here I am. Congrats.

  79. This is fascinating, and I relate on many levels. First, it’s nice to see someone else admit that they’re a slow reader — and an even slower writer. As a full-time freelance writer, I suffer the same angst…definitely an occupational hazard in my case. But it takes me a while to read then process then interpret then develop my insights then write. And in fact, I’m sure I’m missing a few more steps even…

    And then there’s Twitter. I, too, hate the idea of missing out and then having to catch up. But as a writer by passion and profession, I’m ANNOYED at the lack of development allowed in 140 characters. This is the only reason I seem to prefer Facebook to Twitter. At least I can read coherent, complete thoughts on FB that aren’t forced to be written as “thots” on Twitter because of character constraints!

  80. Very interesting! I too could care less about the ramblings of everyone on facebook. I think it’s over rated and recently decided to give my personal one up. Of course I still have to let go of my blog facebook…lol. The privacy changes are too much and not worth having one so that I can read how someone cooked spagetti rather then ravioli. Twitter is in fact a more interesting site to read. Thanks for sharing!

  81. Its living in a digital age. We’re only now beginning to study the affects this craziness has on all of us. I’m a fan of FB myself, but I too can’t let go of scrolling through, sometimes days worth, of updates for fear of missing…what? exactly? i’m not even sure,.

    Great post. Congrats on being freshly pressed.

  82. LOL ! that’s what I thought (and still think) about Twitter, so didn’t even think of getting one. As you said, there’s too much information out there – do we really need to know all of it?

  83. This really hits home for me. I feel like this a lot – all of the time, maybe. I’m overwhelmed. I spend so much of my life overwhelmed, in fact, that I don’t know what it’s like to not be running after the moving train. The thing about the moving train, I guess, is that we can’t actually catch it. (Or maybe the train analogy is actually backwards: maybe we’re already on the moving train, and the landscape is going by too quickly, and the trick is to jump off.)

    I like what you say about scrolling through Twitter – “It’s as if I check off a task on my To Do list each time I scroll through my feed to reach the most recent tweet.” Funnily enough, I started making lists of what I read precisely because of this kind of feeling. I was reading a lot, and saving even more for later – but very little of it, almost none of it, was sinking in. And I wanted to make a note of what had sunk in, left an impression. So the list is a record, more for myself than anyone else, though I’m obviously always pleased if somebody finds something they might not otherwise have noticed via that list. I made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t have to be timely, even if I still often try to be (the competitive side of me wants to be Amongst The First To Notice Things, though I so rarely am). Maybe I’ll link to things that are weeks old, months old, years old! Even the timely things I mention have already been tweeted and linked to a million times by the time I get to them. I can’t help that – I don’t think it’s in my nature to process and respond immediately.

    Sorry for the sprawling comment (more noise!) – but thanks for this piece; I think it might be my “one intriguing, thoughtful story” for the day.

    1. Yes, Nick had mentioned how very little of what he was reading had sunk in. And same for me. It makes me feel better knowing that others take time to process — as @FrailestThing said on Twitter, the “slow writing” is necessary, and I’m glad there’s room for that mode of writing amid all the noise. I understand the need to be informed, and the desire to react nimbly to the ideas and thoughts of others — but ultimately it feels forced to me.

      I do find your What I Read This Week posts helpful — thanks!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: