The Digital Diet Starts Now

As readers of this blog will know I am often drawn to wondering about the effects of technology on how we think, and I worry about my increasing ability to be distracted. Well, tis the New Year, and its traditionally the time of year when we try to change our ways and develop better habits, so rather than just think about these things, I’m trying to do something about them.

Whilst many people are running off to gyms and binning the chocolates in reaction to the Christmas-time consumption, my problem, info-gluttony, also requires a similar solution. I need a diet.

And like trying to tackle the waist-line, the problem is not so much how much you consume, but what you consume. I think its the same deal with info-dieting. Neither food nor information is inherently bad, in fact, you need them. But deciding what to take in is important. I also will be looking at quantity too.

So, some steps i’m taking:

1. Reviewing RSS subscriptions / Twitter following / Facebook Pages
This is tackling head-on the ‘quality’ of my information in-flow. I need to do an audit of what my various tentacles are absorbing. What blogs are I just not reading? How many titles do I consistently skim over in my RSS feed? Are there Twitter accounts that I get nothing from? They have to go.

2. Narrowing my focus.
I have a wide-range of interests which I like to keep up on by consuming lots of various media on them. Beyond these I find myself encountering random topics daily. None of this is bad, but I wonder how much I am really absorbing by spreading myself so thin. I need to consider limiting the scope of my consumption, to really drill down into topics and develop deep-understanding. Of course, there has to be room for expansion and to encounter things outside of my comfort zones, but I need to try to some degree to focus on my core interests. This will be tough, as I like to engage in many different areas.

3. Less multi-tasking
This may seem counter-intuitive, but it goes hand-in-hand with trying to develop deep-thinking skills. Really what it amounts to is this; when i’m consuming something, I focus on that. I have developed a terrible habit of jumping in and out of a text or piece of media whilst reading/watching. This scatter-shot approach to reading is known to hinder proper understanding, and is one of the primary results / causes of the distraction I encounter online. So, from now on, when I’m reading an article, no matter how long, I stick with it till its finished. Or if I find myself wandering, I need to evaluate whether or not its worth continuing. In the past I have soldiered on, but at the same time jumping to Twitter, and to Instant Messaging windows etc. The result is I physically finished the piece, but how much did I actually take in? Would it be better to cut my losses and abandon? I’ve already begun using a series of tools (such as Instapaper and an iPad) to help streamline and focus my online reading. I hope to continue this through to even the smallest piece of online media.

I do think there is a place for using a medium such as Twitter to help add a live, social layer to television watching, and I will still do this, but more discerningly. When I’m watching a film the feeds are going down.

These are just a few ideas I’m sketching down to get me started. I used to be really skeptical of the whole “New Year’s Resolution” idea, but I can see how it can be used as a good point in which to review and change. Let’s see how I get on.