This is not a new year’s resolution

Andy Whitlock
Andy Whitlock

OK, it is a new year’s resolution. I just don’t want to label it such. Denial is a useful survival tactic; a lens through which all behaviour is as we’d like to perceive it. That is, until the lens is cracked, which is what happened to me over Christmas when I read Luke O’Neill’s piece, The Year We Broke The Internet, and Charlie Brooker’s characteristically bleak commentary on our current media habits. Perhaps the mince pies and glazed ham had lowered my shields. Either way, I saw my own habits in the unforgiving daylight.

I’ve decided I need to take control back of the way I consume things. And yes, I really have lost control. Like millions of others, I am constantly drawn in by the hypnotic pull of social streams and link bait nonsense. I’ve never been a person that ‘lets life happen to them’, but somehow ‘content’ has started just happening to me. I’ve become lazy and easily lured, my world reduced to a trickle of posts defined by sources I can’t remember choosing.

I’ve decided to do four things to regain control, although I refrained from entitling this post “4 things that...”.

The first thing I’ve done is moved the apps from the homescreen on my phone to screen two, and vice versa. A small gesture, but now the first things I see when I grab my Nexus 4 are sources of high quality, long-form content instead of social media icons, beckoning me with their promise of low-investment engagement.
Although this screams of a shallow solution to a deeper problem, I’m interested to see how a subtle ‘user experience’ change might impact my behaviour. Already, I’m constantly reminded of services I usually forget.

Next, I’ve decided to make a rule where I never click a link that starts with a number. 34 reasons socks are dangerous. 28 shocking photographs. This is more of a symbolic gesture than a real ‘solution’, but it’s a start. Of course, this Buzzfeedy number tactic is really a sign of something much bigger at play: an attempt to make articles sound more substantial and captivating than they really are. To prioritise social currency over nourishment.

Three: I’m starting to use a reader again. Years ago, I used Google Reader religiously but as I fell deeper into Twitter, I became lazy. I’d read what surfaced in front of me instead of what I wanted to see. Time to take some control back. Along with this, I need to carve out some reading time each day: another activity that fell victim to a busy calendar.

And lastly (for now) I’ve started to unfollow professional content sources on Twitter. I don’t need to see every story from mashable or Brainpicker as they’re published. The most important ones will surface through my peers. The others I’ll see if I deem that publication worth subscribing to. I spend too much time reading headlines for things I don’t care about and not enough time reading articles I would enjoy.

In short, I’m going to treat content like food. I don’t eat fast food and I won’t consume fast content. At least not as much.

But this isn’t just a post about what and how I consume. It’s also about what I do, and what others do. No one is just a consumer and no one is just a creator. We all do both. We’re part of the system. And I think it’s important to resolve this dual existence. We are guilty of hypocrisy, ranting about spam and yet praising manipulative ‘growth hacking’; celebrating growth and damning ubiquity. How we consume affects the system and hopefully impacts other creators too.

While writing this, I see Mel Exon has posted something along similar-ish lines and I get the feeling lots of people feel similarly. Here’s to resolutions, which may or may not have something to do with it being a new year ;)

7 comments

You must read The Circle. It was ultimately disappointing but contains some brilliant passages where Eggers takes the characters, and their relationships to ubiquitous social engagement, to the edge of reason and quite a long way beyond. It caused me to laugh out-loud as well as being thought-provoking.

Tim Malbon

PS: I read your blog post by climbing to a high point of the remote and magical island of Iona. I must be *very* ill...

Tim Malbon

Top post Andy. I had to unfollow Mashable a good while back for the same reasons. Fast Company might have to follow too as they're fast becoming the Daily Mail of design blogs. Love the idea of consuming content like food too. Let's start eating better.

Shaun Tollerton

Very well put Andy. I remember a related conversation in a restaurant first time you came to Spain, but focused on how the change from blog reading to twitter was impacting our relationships lol!!!

Luis

Yeah Andy. Content is a completly new drug. Months ago I thought the same, and reduced the time I wasted on twitter. I trust in my network, in my collegues and what they share with me. We are humans for living & thinking things, not for eating the same sh-t information. Happy NY everyone!

Jesus

@Luis, *our* relationship? Maybe we should take this offline ;)

Andy

Hey nice article. Good luck with controlling your data consumption.

I've been thinking about this more and more recently myself and wrote a post on Data Consumerism yesterday: http://peteroome.com/2014/01/26/data-consumerism-and-the-attention-economypassively.html

Pete Roome