The Dizziness of Reading Material

I wrote about this topic earlier this year. I feel that it is a good idea to revisit the subject. Now is a good time to reevaluate what, when, and how we read from our devices.

Earlier this year, The Sweet Setup published a great review of the best collection of RSS readers for iOS: specifically for the iPad, though what they state is largely true for iPhone apps as well. It’s a good review by Robert McGinley Myers. He proves several reasons why RSS is still relevant in 2014, and why Unread is the best RSS reader.

RSS lost core mainstream attention when Google Reader was shutdown, but that does not change the fact that RSS is still the most useful way to read your favorite sites. It may be old-fashioned by social networking standards, and sure, site managers would rather you visit their site each and every time you read their content so that they can boost their stats. But RSS best serves readers. It just works when implemented with an especially reader-friendly interface. (Second to RSS might be a Twitter list which I use as a backup of some interesting RSS feeds, but that’s a subject for another post.)

In his review, Robert quotes Jared Sinclair, who created Unread:

Let RSS be the place where great independent writing thrives. Choose your favorite writers and read them closely. If you’re also a writer, write as if you are writing directly to just such a reader, the way Kierkegaard always wrote for: “… that single individual whom I with joy and gratitude call my reader…”

It’s fitting that Sinclair ends this philosophy statement (how many app developers even have a philosophy statement, let alone one so well-articulated?) with a quote from Soren Kierkegaard. I often think of Kierkegaard when I think about the anxiety technology can produce, an anxiety brought on by the power to do so many different things that we’re never quite sure what to do at any given moment. Kierkegaard compared anxiety to dizziness, “the dizziness of freedom.”

We still face the dizziness problem here at the end of 2014. We are bombarded with news and content. Heck, most of you probably want to speed read this post so you can get back to your Twitter feed, texts, and Slack chats. There’s a ridiculous urge we suffer to ‘consume all the things.’ I hate to break it to you, but you are ensnared in the dizziness. This dizziness is more like self-indentured slavery to a bad ideal: the notion that unfiltered content leads to a better understanding of our culture and our work. You and I don’t need that.

What we need is self-structured filters, like the ones we can manage with RSS. An operational definition of the word ‘liberty’ is ‘freedom within boundaries.’ Ah, that’s what we need. By way of limiting our feeds, we can enjoy the content that is most beneficial.

Ask yourself something like If I were marooned on a deserted island, and I could only have 3 site feeds with me, which would I take? Then, ask yourself this again for three more sites. Do this four times, so that you have a nice even number of 12 feeds in total. That should do it. 12 is about as many sites as you can realistically make time for and truly benefit from. Let the Top 12 steer you towards the good stuff, so that you have real time for some highly enjoyable feed reads — none of the dizzy rush to consume all the things.

In early 2015, take some time to prune your feeds, bookmarks, and follows that are bogging you down. You only have so much attention to give them. Stop being a headlines completionist. Be a high-performing reader that focuses on what’s worthwhile.

Joe Darnell

Joe is a UI and graphic designer with prior experience as the creative director for three media-based businesses. Joe’s passionate about web design and graphic design with about 15 years of experience in the media industry. Additionally, Joe is the host of the Top Brew and Techtonic podasts, both featured on iTunes.