This week we’re continuing our ongoing discussion about how to remain sane in the Age of Information. It’s an evolving strategy. Things change so rapidly now that any plan can become obsolete before it has a chance to be implemented.
The most successful part of the plan has been the reclamation of the time once wasted absorbing the nightly shooting report and the national corporate political spin. For the generations who grew up with the television tuned into to local and national news, this has been a habit hard to break, even as the content of the broadcasts became steadily more toxic. But in this case information technology itself has provided the solution, especially for cord cutters. The news apps on Roku and FireTV allow you to choose the stories you want to watch, or you can go directly to Glenn Burns’ video weather report and avoid corporate news altogether.
Americans now spend more time looking at phones, tablets and laptops than they do watching television, but around the farm it’s not hard to avoid pixels, especially social media pixels, in the spring. Any free time left over after earning a living is usually spent outside. Soil must be turned and tended, and the greenhouse is full of seedlings that need to be set out. It only takes one rain to turn grass into hay, and the blades on the mower need sharpening.
The morning cup of coffee is usually the time when we are most likely to visit pixel land here on the farm. Social media captured and still holds the attention of millions of people. It was something novel when it was new, but it grew stale long ago for many of us. However, it is specifically designed to be addictive, with feedback mechanisms that serve up small doses of serotonin when we are “liked” or “retweeted” or “followed.” Therefore is is a difficult habit for many of us to kick.
Curating the social media experience can help. Avoiding the “look at my wonderful life” posts can add hours to your day. (Hint: Most of these are just “commercials” in search of validation and not a valid basis for comparison with our own mundane lives. Just click “like” and quickly move on.)
We’ve criticized social media often here, but that doesn’t mean that it is devoid of benefit. Again, the key is to curate the experience. It takes some time to setup, and a bit of maintenance, but both Facebook and Twitter allow extensive filtering. After a bit of tweaking, the first things I see are posts from people who have a sense of humor, and it is rare now that I am served an unsolicited political opinion. This cuts the time spent on social media down to about the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee in the morning, and avoids an incalculable amount of unnecessary annoyance.
The ongoing challenge for those of us who wish to extract useful information from corporate media is to do so without wasting time on click bait drama. You can safely skip over any headline that contains certain telltale phrases. Articles under the words “slams,” “outraged,” and “pushes back” usually do not contain any information you can use to improve your life. If the headline sounds like something that could be reported from a professional wrestling match, it probably has little value.
When I’m hiking in the woods or working in the garden, it’s easy to imagine a world without our information matrix. But to continue to be able to afford some time with nature, many of us must continue to interface with the world of pixels. I’ve invested some effort streamlining that interaction, and some of these shortcuts may work for you as well.
Marketwatch is a website that can very quickly provide all the essential financial news without the contamination of politics. ScienceDaily and Physorg provide a wide view of cutting edge science news, with links to in depth articles for the technically minded. Access North Georgia will keep you current on news of interest to north Georgia residents. None of the websites mentioned are behind a pay wall.
There are more sites out there that can provide quality information on current events without politics or drama, but you have to look for them. There are countless sources of scientific, technical and historical information, and many of them are still free. It takes effort to push past the click bait drama that competes for our attention, but it is worth the trouble.
We have an advantage over most of you when it comes to curating our information experience: We have to drive about 5 miles for our cell phones to become useful. This one geographical advantage has allowed us to avoid the Borg-like assimilation that plagues many Americans. When we are away from home, however, we are just as likely to become tethered to the phone as anyone. There is a simple solution for that. Confine the phone to a separate room. Never allow it to enter the bedroom..
In my humble opinion, the best place to keep the cell phone at home is in the bathroom. The amount of time we spend on our phones should not exceed the amount of time we spend there, and the bathroom ambiance somehow seems appropriate for the quality of most of the information a phone can provide. (If you find that you’re spending more time in the bathroom, however, a different strategy may be needed.)