Darn those pesky New Year’s Resolutions. When you pick one that will actually make a difference in your life, it’s hard to push it to the side and forget about it.
I knew it was time to confront my digital hoarding. Predictably, it was worse than I thought.
For some people it’s probably photographs and videos, and yes, I have a lot of those too, but that’s not my goal for right now. I have plenty of storage and they’re all backed up to the cloud. They don’t eat up my mental bandwidth, which is the real issue.
I have a problem. When I was a little kid, I wished I could read everything, every book in the whole world. I’ve never really figured out how to un-wish that wish, only now it’s spread to include, apparently, every article, newsletter, and blog post ever written.
The better I have gotten at sourcing and bookmarking information, the worse my digital hoarding has gotten.
I found some apps and learned to speed-read, at which point it got still worse.
I’m following that same line now, although in a new direction, and I appear to have passed Peak Bookmarks. At least so far in 2021, I’m trending downward.
What kind of hoarding are we talking about?
I don’t hoard physical books like a lot of dedicated readers. This may unsettle you, but I [whispering]... I think most books look bad! Physical bookshelves are a problem in my life for several reasons, not the least of which is my parrot, who has come by the nickname Sneaky Beaky honestly. They take up too much space in our tiny apartments, it’s a pain to have to keep unpacking them, and, finally, whenever there is a bookshelf in a room, my eyes will obsessively wander to it. Much too distracting.
It was around the time that I got my first smartphone that I started feeling able to release my physical book collection. Once I knew I would always have something to read in my pocket, my brain decoupled from the bound object and latched itself onto the digital variety like a lamprey.
A plausible formulation would be that I would eventually learn to trust that there will always be more news than I can read every single day, and that information will always come at me in waves, a sea I can never drink down.
In that formulation, I would quit bookmarking things and chill out, floating ineffably in an intellectual innertube on an endless ocean of content.
Yeah, that never happened.
Periodically, pun intended, I would skim through my various hoards, intending to delete a bunch of stuff that was no longer relevant to my interests. I don’t think I ever even deleted 0.5% that way. The experience would just leave me peevish, feeling starved for time and yet more committed to eventually reading through this backlog.
What? I can’t just... not know what is in those articles!
In some ways it got still worse when I started my tech newsletter. It is extremely stochastic what I will and won’t find on any given day. I’m at the point now where, on rare occasions, something I post will actually spark a white paper or an invention disclosure. Obviously this is super-exciting! For the first time in my life, my chronic reading habits have direct practical application to real-world results!
This has led to FoMO of the very worst kind. If I miss something, it’s not just me missing it, it’s all my readers, too, and what then??
I’m on top of it, though. The work stuff, at any rate.
I’m gradually chipping away at my personal stuff, too.
How am I doing it? Since I am apparently powerless to delete things and simply change my mind about letting things go?
I found a couple of apps that will speed-read text aloud.
It turns out this capability had existed in my all-time favorite bookmarking app, Pocket, for who knows how long. I could have been doing this for perhaps years. I just didn’t realize because the majority of my free mental bandwidth is quickly squandered on reading.
The best thing about it? Most audio apps top out at 3x, but Pocket goes to 4. I’m currently at 3.4x and it’s still crisp and clear.
Pocket is genius. I’ve been using it for years, to the point that I have gotten email from them saying I’m in their top 5% of users worldwide. I don’t know how many people have this app installed, but it is maybe a little alarming that I’m on their radar to this extent?
That being said, it can’t pick up everything. The formatting on some publications is unreadable by Pocket. It’s still possible to read in web view, but my speed-reading app Outread can’t transfer these. In the past, I would sometimes copy and paste the text from the original article into Outread, a fussy process.
Then I found Text to Speech. The same text I was copying and pasting into Outread could be dropped into Text to Speech instead. It doesn’t read as quickly as Pocket, but it was a way to listen to articles while multi-tasking.
Not long after that, I stumbled upon an ad for Elocance. I paid $35 for it, which is beyond the pale for most apps, but in the range for old-school CD-ROM software or a hardcover book. While it can only read at 1.5x, it’s able to handle almost all the weirdly formatted publications that Pocket can’t. It can also read email, newsletter subscriptions, Word docs, PDFs, and whatever other random text you want to throw in there. Another improvement it has over Text to Speech is that it lines everything up in a playlist like a podcast app, rather than one-off selections.
The way all this works, I’m listening through my news queue when I would previously have been listening to podcasts. While this has completely replaced podcasts in my life for the moment, I am actually consuming news content faster than I can bookmark it!
It’s entirely likely that the novelty of blasting through my news queue with these new toys will soon wear off, and I will replace them with a new information source that will have me right back where I started. I give myself all year to work on a resolution, though, and for now, I’m making progress and feeling proud of myself.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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