Info habits, revisited

I firmly believe that what and how you engage with information shapes the way you think.1 I kind of think of this as another version of the trash in / trash out problem. So I like to experiment with the way I consume and process information.

Some of the things I’ve been doing have been working well:

  • I’ve been rigorously unsubscribing from stuff I don’t find interesting, and of course things that I find too unpleasant/harsh/rude. This includes newsletters, Twitter accounts, etc. Hard-to-unsubscribe newsletters, where it’s made hard to unsubscribe by design (hiding the unsub button behind a login screen, etc.) go straight to trash and are marked as spam.
  • Taking this to the next level I’ve also been blocking offensive accounts on Twitter quite liberally for some time, and feel better for it.
  • To put my money where my mouth is, I’ve left Facebook some years ago and found out, to my own surprise and delight, that I didn’t miss it for a second.
  • Unlike Facebook, I do miss Instagram, because I like taking photos and sharing them online somehow triggered more attention to my surroundings. But since I found myself scrolling endlessly, especially early in the morning or late at night, I dropped out of the platform altogether. That’s something I might restart at some point, and who knows: Maybe I can resist the endless scroll.
  • I occasionally switch my default news sites for general news. Bad defaults are the worst habits, good defaults are an easy way to get to good habits.

So that’s the input / consumption side. On the processing side of things, I’ve developed some habits that might or might not apply to others but that have helped me:

  • I send longer articles to Pocket, where I can read and/or tag them later. There are some simple automatisms in place to send stuff there even faster (browser extensions, an IFTTT that shares links from tweets that I fave, etc.). It’s a simple catch-all in the GTD sense.
  • I bookmark extensively and tag those bookmarks religiously. Pinboard is my platform of choice, because it’s owner-operated and I love the philosophy behind it as much as the actual implementation. It’s a web service as it should be.
  • As much as possible I share thoughts as blog posts — even fragments of thoughts, emerging ideas, etc. — which helps me document and shape my own thinking. If it’s helpful to others, that’s a bonus. It helps that I don’t particularly mind being called out for the occasional silly idea, and it offers a great documentation for future reference.
  • More recently, I’ve been trying to get better at documenting what I find online for myself through annotations. The workflow I currently use, but not sure if it’s sustainable for me, is to have a folder in my main text editor Ulysses that’s called “Interesting” and I include text files with headlines, links, some notes. Some of this could easily be done with Evernote, and sometimes I wonder if I should just have stuck with using it 10 years or so ago but I was always nervous about them shutting down and losing my stuff and my habits. So this local approach feels nicely robust and custom-tailored, as basic as it is.

So yeah: I try not to ingest too much trash, and to be intentional and attentive about processing what I ingest. The habit of sharing outputs regularly and frequently helps me get there, and has some other nice benefits.

  1. An admittedly superficial glance at research in that space seems that science confirms this, but since that’s not my main point here I’ll leave it at that.

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