Passive Information Consumption

In February 2016, we stopped our newspaper subscription at home. This was a huge step for me at the time. Since I can remember, my top morning ritual was reading the newspaper. Even when I was a child who barely understood the words, I made sure that I glanced through the headlines and clarify things I didn’t understand with dad.

11 months down the line, this was one of the best things I did this year. Along with other changes and even by itself, this allowed my day to be not as influenced by events (esp. the depressing ones) that had little influence over my life or more importantly, over which I had little influence.

It has been my biggest life-hack this year – consciously, actively stopping information flow into my life yielded immense benefits. I also recently uninstalled (well, functionally – I still need it to schedule football games and stay in touch with remote friends) WhatsApp, deactivated my Twitter account (a separate section on this) and cut my Reddit browsing time by over 60% (I still follow curated sub-reddits of interest occasionally but I’ve stopped browsing the front page).

I haven’t read a newspaper or a magazine all of this year. Either on the web or in print. I’ve uninstalled the one news app (WSJ) I had on my phone. I’ve found that there’s a significant cognitive overload required to navigate to a website in a mobile browser, instead of easy-access apps, that reduced time I spent on mindlessly browsing news stories.

A more recent obsession, soccer, also has moved to the back-burner. In the last few years, I’d deluded myself into thinking that following football matches through 40 weekends (!?!) was worth my attention. It ended up swallowing my precious weekend hours and killed my thin social life. Without conscious effort but by design (my cable operator stopped live telecasts of these matches), I’ve got rid of this obsession too. One fine weekend it was gone and I realized I didn’t miss it at all. I continue to play football but I can’t be bothered about keeping tabs on clubs and their performances through an entire season.

Between August and November 2016, I was heavily active on Twitter, scrolling through thousands of tweets every morning, noon and night. I curated my follow list but it didn’t help in avoiding the negativity that is rampant on Twitter. I think many have used it very well but it clearly isn’t a tool for me.

So, in turn, my primary and only source of news was what I heard through friends, family and co-workers. In its digital form, this took the shape of Facebook news feeds. After a few years of tweaking to figure the best way to use Facebook (including ‘cold’ exits, daily posts and active sharing), I’ve designed my Facebook now as a curated news medium, filtered by following ONLY people whose opinions I value highly and people who form the group of loved ones.

Similarly, in its physical form, by hanging around with like-minded friends, I was able to have focused, in-depth discussions about things I’m genuinely interested.

In a year of heightened passions, political divides and unpredictable outcomes, this helped moderate my political positions. I take my own and everyone else’s political positions a lot less seriously. Despite all the rhetoric and ridiculous positions, the fact that events like Trump POTUS, Brexit and demonetization all happened means that I can safely ignore mainstream opinions. I did and it has had absolutely no impact on my life. There are fewer inane conversations about ‘current affairs’ and instead I tend to have more meaningful and personal conversations with people I meet around their hobbies, interests and passions and mine.

As a positive side-effect, I have been able to channel my unused time, memory and cognitive abilities into more productive activities. Since the beginning of this year, I’ve learned to code in Python, using it for a wide variety of tasks from writing mini productivity programs to using it for machine-learning projects. For the first time since my teens (when I used to read Hardy Boys books), I’ve read 15 books in a year including a mammoth ‘War and Peace’. Both of these have been incredibly fulfilling and enjoyable activities.

A few other relevant anecdotes
  • – This guy too quit reading the news and realized benefits — “You’ll find that your abstinence did not result in any worse cabinet appointments than were already being made, and that disaster relief efforts carried on without your involvement, just as they always do. As it turns out, your hobby of monitoring the “state of the world” did not actually affect the world.”
Passive Information Consumption

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