As anyone who loves to read and gets most of the information from reading, I am more than familiar with a constant feeling of not reading or knowing enough. In other words, as Rory Gilmore stated in the famous Harvard trip library scene in the Gilmore Girls:
There’s a word for that feeling you are probably already familiar with. FOMO. It’s been with us since 1996, though we feel its effect mainly now when most of the news consumption comes from social media, newsletters, RSS feeds, ping messages, notifications etc. Yes, it’s not only about social interactions you are afraid to not make. Even with reading, you can feel you’re missing something by not being out there or reading everything that is available.
Though I’m not new to the field of digital media and social media data, academia feels a bit different. It’s a challenging and very demanding ride on the tip of a wave of constantly new information. The hardest thing about it is keeping up with the fast pace of ever-changing digital environment, its research and projects other researchers work on.
However, a stream of information is good only if you know how to tame it and use it for your own advantage. I share with you the process I stick to and that’s helping me with sourcing & storing information I find online. I use it to stay updated, explore new ideas and eventually write them down.
Cleaning your Facebook feed & keeping your Twitter sources interesting
First of all, I take good care of both my Twitter and Facebook feeds because I don’t want to end up being swamped in everything that passes me by.
On Facebook I regularly (manually) unmark all Friends and Pages I don’t wish to follow (without upsetting anyone and losing track of what they’re doing if I really want to know). As of now, I have only up to 20 friends whose updates actually do appear in my News Feed.
I also use Social Fixer plug-in which mutes posts by keywords (Trump who?), limits the number of posts, hides annoying ads etc.
Since Twitter is my main source of information I consume, I try to keep it simple and interesting. I follow only people or institutions (labs, universities, think-tanks) which are relevant to my field (data, social media research, digital humanities), I know them personally or I find them in some way entertaining.
I follow only up to 10 news outlets (CZE, SWE, ENG), though. It occurs to me that important news always finds their way to reach me, so why to bother following them all.
Also, I switched off the “Show the best Tweets first” option and who is retweeting what. If annoyed I mute people without a warning.
One plot twist relates to the Tweeple I follow and who blog. Obviously, I don’t want to miss what they blog about. However, most of them live several time zones away from me and their blog posts might go under my radar. The RSS feeds of their blogs are therefore categorized into my Feedly. This gives me more time to read new content, resulting in not missing anything important and valuable in the process.
Avoiding FOMO while reading magazines and academic journals
As you may see on the screenshot of my minimalist list of Feedly feeds, I do have a category for online magazines that publish tons of articles daily. I read Wired (categories: Top News and Security Latest) and MIT Technological Review (Top Stories and Computing) regularly. Occasionally I read what’s new in The New Yorker business, tech & science section.
Since I hate e-mails notifications ringing all the time I unsubscribed from every single magazine newsletter I have subscribed to. Believe it or not, 90% of them were from magazines I didn’t have time to read. Now, when I run into a magazine worth to be followed, instead of newsletters I use RSS feeds.
A huge part of my reading list now consists of academic journals. And boy, these journals are exactly *the* thing that constantly puts *me* in the FOMO state. As I said, keeping up with academia is quite challenging and demanding you read a LOT. However, Katya Ognyanova put together a Feedly feed of all important journals that focus on the fields of data analysis, sociology, new media, and politics. Now, I have a controlled way to see what’s new in my field.
All of the above-mentioned sources end up one way or another in my Feedly. I keep the number of feeds on minimum and I name them by the topic or area I’m interested in or people I follow. It keeps me focused on important things without constantly catching up the wind. If I feel overwhelmed by a source that publishes way too often, I simply delete it.
Wait! It’s a reading time
If you set up a system that effectively triages information so only those that are valuable to you can reach you, you will see you have way less material to actually read. Now you might wonder when and how to find time to read.
I read in the morning for 1 to 2 hours maximum when I’m still fresh enough to absorb new stimuli. Also, commuting which I do often is good. Switching off phones and TV helps to stay focused, too.
When I go through my Feedly, first all I get rid of articles I don’t want to read by marking them as read. Then I proceed with blogs and magazine articles. I read them, some of them end up in Feedly boards I use to store interesting/important articles I want to get back to later.
I use Read later flag for academic journals only. Afterward, I send them over to Zotero where I work with them in a more detailed way (read below).
Annotating and writing it down
If you want to remember what you read, writing it down or annotate is a pretty good idea to start with. Also, if you’re like me you probably tend to hoard up files on your hard drive. Eventually, it means ending up being lost in directories and files you have no idea what they are about. Usually.
Lately, I’ve been trying out Zotero. It’s a research assistant I find immensely helpful in decluttering my messy hard drive. You don’t have to be researching anything, though, to find it a handy (and free) tool for collecting, organizing, citing and sharing files.
Zotero has an extension that just by one click transforms any online file (article, pdf file, video) into an annotated file and saves it straight into your library. There you can add tags to the files, you can link files between each other by their content similarity, use colors (and emojis!) and share it with your collaborators etc. Also, everything is reachable online. Or you can use a PaperShip iOS app to read the files on your tablet or phone on the go.
Last but not least, let me point you to a tool that you can use to bind all the sources to write an article, a research paper, a dissertation, a book or script. It’s called Scrivener. I’ve discovered it only recently, so more detailed review of it will follow in a couple of weeks, but so far I can’t be happy enough to use it. The system of Scrivener is well thought out to cover most of the problems you run into when writing and transforming resources into text. Also, you can rearrange and reorder snippets of text, a feature I was always missing in both Word and Google Docs. It’s like having a corkboard with everything you want to use in your computer.
These are just some tools and resources that I find helpful to navigate through the vast space of information and knowledge lying online. Disclaimer: None of the mentioned apps are in any paid relations to me. I hope that you find them useful as I did.
In case you use any tools or a system of your own that works for you, please share it with me. I’m curious how others declutter their feeds.
Meanwhile, I wish you a good night sleep. Though, I do sleep too much, with this system that works for my own benefit I no longer have regrets about missing out anything I need to know.
Seven coffees were consumed while writing this article.
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