On a number of occasions on this blog and on the Radio Roundtable, I’ve made a point of saying that I believe strong readers make strong writers. I believe this to be particularly true of reading books, as the long-form content requires one to follow a plot or a theme over a protracted period, immersing the reader in the story. My co-host last week, Chip Griffin, made the point that we are reading more than ever, particularly online, and that this doesn’t seem to have improved writing. Fair, but sad, point. (I do wonder if the type of reading, rather than reading itself, matters. Reading a web page or blog post is different than reading a book, but how different?)
My affection for books led me to fan/friend/whatever we are calling it now NPR-Books on Facebook. One of the links posted yesterday was to the Monkey See blog on NPR, to a post titled “The Sad, Beautiful Fact That We’re All Going to Miss Almost Everything.” Talk about a deflating title. The post rings true though. There are thousands of classics that I should get to. There are thousands of books written year after year, many of which would be good reading. And by “good reading,” I mean a book that leaves you with something, whether it’s a sense of purpose, a greater understanding of the world or humanity, or insight into a life completely different than yours.
You can’t read them all, however. There are too many. What is a reader to do?
The post describes two responses to this sorry state: culling or surrendering. Culling is proactively cutting out broad swaths of material, getting to what matters (to you). Surrendering is resigning yourself to the realization that you can’t read it all, and moving on from that point. I think I do a bit of both. On the “culling” side, I’m going to say something somewhat heretical for a blogger in the social media space: For the most part, I hate business books. I think just about everyone in this space has either written a book or wants to write a book about how social media is changing the world, etc. Except me. I’m not interested in reading or writing something along those lines, for a variety of reasons. On the “surrendering” side–it takes some work for me to do this, but if a book isn’t working for me, now I’ll set it aside. I used to try and power through books that didn’t interest me, in particular ones that I “should” read. Not anymore. I have stacks and stacks of books, some that I’ve never read, on my shelves at home (bookstores are a problem for me). A bit of culling, a bit of surrender.
This is what we must now do. Cull, surrender. There’s simply too much content everywhere. Lately the call has been to curate content, and yes, this helps to reduce the total a bit–but if everyone starts to curate, we have an abundance of curated content that we can’t get to and end up feeling overwhelmed. A number of articles speculate that this is what has proven to be so bewitching about apps to consumers–it allows them to access the content they want without getting lost in the search.
RSS works as a way to filter content–but we add too many feeds to our RSS readers, until we have to declare RSS bankruptcy and mark all as read. Same process for email–mark all as read and delete anything older than last week. And so on. Of course we’re going to add more apps than we need, but at least those will sit passively on our phones and tablets and not mock us with “unreads,” a visual display of our inability to keep up with content that we elected to receive. Unread Tweets, Facebook status updates that we miss, blog posts that someone else points to and we think “why didn’t I see that in my feeds first?” Are we so afraid of missing something?
Cull, or surrender.