Information Diets : The news curse
Your thoughts are the average of the five sources of information you read
I hope you all are doing well and welcome (if you aren’t new then again) to Dozen Worthy Reads. A newsletter where I talk about the most interesting things about tech that I read the past couple of weeks or write about tech happenings. You can sign up here or just read on …
Each week I read for 20 hours. I start my day with Stratechery (because I work in tech) and in spite of spending so many hours on reading, I still struggle with keeping up. After years of trying to tame my information diet, what I still do wrong is go down every tech rabbit hole. Crypto - check, Tech scandals - check Latest WFH rules for Apple - check. Some of this is mindless reading and this has come at the cost of evergreen learning and writing. I have missed out on reading books (In 2019 I read 48 books! In 2021, that fell to 5 books). While I am aware of a lot of the tech happenings, I have never questioned why I really care? Does reading about all this make me smarter, faster, or better at work or in life? Sure I know a few extra random facts about what happened in tech but if I didn’t, it would not matter. It would not matter at all. I’m trapped in the never-ending now. I write this as a reader/consumer and not as a writer so keep that in mind.
You’ve probably heard that “You are what you eat” and “You're the average of the five people you spend the most time with” but you’ve definitely never heard anyone say “Your thoughts are the average of the five sources of information you read”.
We’re all aware that your diet is important. What most people are not aware of is that your information diet, i.e what you read, is just as important. In Write of Passage, David Perell talks about “food for thought” and draws a parallel; how we think about what we put into our bodies should be how we think about what we put into our minds. Most of us don’t pay any attention to what we put into our minds. Stop for a second. What did you read this morning? Do you remember it? Do YOU give a shit about it? I’ll probably wager not.
Two years ago I wrote an article called The Art of Reading in which I write about how one should think about what to read – And I created Dozen Worthy Reads to write and curate the things I’d want to read with no filler content and no BS. And yet I still struggle. FOMO. I need to know that else I’m screwed. That’s BS. We’re all prone to getting lost in the news (for me specifically it's techmeme.com) and a lot of what we read doesn’t matter and is quite frankly very poor quality writing. So today I want to dig a little bit deeper into Information Diets and how one can solve this by home-ing in on specifics, The Barbell approach, more evergreen reading, note-taking, as well as glancing at the headlines.
How do I solve this?
Home in on specific niche areas that interest me (and .. YOU)
The first thing is to home in on specific areas of interest and narrow that down even further. For example, I care less about politics and religion, and more about tech, business, life hacks, and life principles. Even within those categories, I need to get more specific about what I am consuming and more importantly WHY. For me it's multiple things, it's being able to draw on the material so I can write, to be continuously prepped if I meet an exec or have an impromptu call with someone who works in a specific industry. Know YOUR WHY and focus only on that.
I am subscribed to 100+ Substacks, newsletters, and curated lists that I dedicatedly try to read on the weekend. I always have something left on my Matter queue. So the first thing I need to do is not unsubscribe because I like the content in most of these reads but rather decide WHEN to read this specific post instead of just dumping it in my Matter queue.
The Barbell Approach to News
I need to be very judicious of what news I consume. Do I need to know this? Do I need to know this now? Do I trust the source? Do I want to dig deeper? Why do I care about this? Is this already yesterday’s news? Michael Dean also brings up a couple of interesting points as you think about what you consume. There are two possible lenses. The first is as a writer if you have an essay you are writing you are likely to actively research to write. The second is as a reader when you come across something randomly do you think this will be useful to remember in the future? And if so do you think your first brain or second brain is more appropriate for long-term storage? I’ve never been a good note-taker, always depending on the first brain. I think this is also caused in part by the fact that I try to read things fast and often think I’ll remember a nuance but always forget. My new note-taking system (Matter → Notion) will both help with guiding my information diet and remembering things that I think are important.
To become a writer that writes timeless articles, I need to identify what are things that will be evergreen as these result in learning and knowledge in the true sense. Some things don’t matter. Some things matter now. Some things will always matter. As Bezos has said, “Focus on the things that don't change.” For you, this will be different but would you rather be learning or just reading?
Glancing at headlines
I work in tech and as a result, it’s important to be informed. So I’ll likely continue to spend 20-30 minutes a day glossing over Techmeme news and news on LinkedIn and Twitter to understand what happened in tech this week! Remember junk food is OK, just not all the time!
The smartest people fall into the “news” trap which is why I wish we could go back to the age of a “daily” newspaper, in which, only the most important “news” surfaced. The key thing is to think about the distinction between spending and investing. Would you rather invest your time (which will compound as interest does)? Or would you rather spend your time reading things that are not important which will lead to a mental savings account with a zero balance?
Thank you for reading. Stay safe, be well! If you enjoyed reading this please consider sharing it with a friend or two (or sign up here if you came across this or were forwarded this)
I have the absolute pleasure of taking Write Of Passage with a bunch of amazing people. Thank you so much to Ben Weiss, Michael Dean, John Absher, and Henk Bruisma for feedback on early drafts and for making this more understandable and relatable. You beautiful people!