Inert Detritus The Internet's dust bunnies

Posted
8 August 2009 @ 11pm

Obsessive Completionism

I feel compelled to consume every last bit produced in certain digital domains. Twitter users and RSS feeds are my latest vices; before that, it was Twitter and podcasts, and before that, it was podcasts and issues of The Economist. And every yeah, the SxSW showcasing artists torrents interrupts my music listening as I slowly go through it.

I’m not sure where this drive comes from. I suspect it lies in an irrational extrapolation, a strange assumption about quality of content: all past and future content will be as valuable, funny, or interesting as what I’ve thus far consumed.

Over the past three years, I’ve slowly advanced through different stages of dealing with this. Initially, I simply threw time at the problem, dedicating more and more time to reading in order to stay “caught up”. Next, I reluctantly pared back sources, as a lack of time or energy forced me to choose between selective permanent bankruptcy (unsubscribing) or wide-spread temporary bankruptcy (mark all as read). For whatever reason, I was more comfortable making an unsubscribe decision than a mark-all-as-read decision, possibly because it was easier to make a permanent judgment on a single site, relegating them to the dustbin, rather than tossing out perfectly good news items simply because their date of publishing fell on the wrong week. RSS examples are easiest: the first sites to go were the high noise, high volume, low signal feeds like Digg, Boing Boing, and Slashdot.

As I got my RSS problems under control, Twitter picked up steam, and I began following more and more people. I’ve now gone through two Twitter purges, each of them only cutting back from around 300 following to 250. I find it difficult to drop people one at a time, but like spring cleaning, the sheer momentum of the first few unfollows puts me into a much more objective mood. Twitter’s new following list UI makes this much, much easier, showing you the person’s last tweet: this often reminds you of just why you’d been meaning to unfollow them.

Lately, RSS has been easier to make these decisions with, and, ironically, I’ve found that stepping away for a few days and taking a look at your aggregator makes this exercise easier. Don’t read anything for a week; sort your feeds by most to least unread items, and ask, “Do I really need to read all 300 items? How many good links or articles will be in there? 3? 30? 150?”

The most important thing I’ve learned about this “obsessive completionism” is to know that it’s going on: it forces tough decisions about feed sources much sooner, since you know that the volume will eventually be overwhelming.


4 Comments

Posted by
Allen Pike
8 August 2009 @ 11pm

Twitter’s unsubscribe interface will always be sorely lacking until can show “Tweets per day” the way Google Reader can show “Updates per day”. High-volume publishers are rarely low-noise in any medium.


Posted by
Steven Fisher
9 August 2009 @ 8am

If you’re treating Twitter as a mailing list, you really are using it wrong. And if your particular disorders (we all have them) require that, you’d probably be happier not using it. Anything else is just mitigation.


Posted by
Christopher Bowns
9 August 2009 @ 10am

Allen: my long-standing wish (and one that, given enough free time, I’d probably write myself) is a utility that shows you your following list, sorted by tweets per 24 hours over the last month. I’m willing to guess it’s one of those “30 of your 300 following constitute 50% of your daily Twitter feed”.

Steven: *shrug* I mean, sure, “I’m doing it wrong,” but I’ve been doing it wrong since December 2007, so I’d say it’s working for me so far. There are a lot of people that, quite simply, I do want to see all the tweets from; those that I don’t, I eventually drop.


Posted by
Steven Fisher
9 August 2009 @ 10am

Christopher, I think what I was really trying to say is if something has you running at an 8/10 stress level, it isn’t worth using. And if you’re really that close to figuring out who you need to drop on any particular day, I think it’s probably more stress for you than it’s worth.

Of course, if you’re still enjoying it, go ahead. It’s just a thought. :)