The Internet can be exhausting. It keeps showing you stuff to read. It’s now shown you this, and you’ve just clicked on it — see how it works?
In 2017 i’ll actively steer clear of three kinds of articles in particular, whether i’m on the road or not: the news, self-improvement, and listicles. Here’s why.
#1. The news
It’s no conspiracy theory that the news are designed with one key purpose in mind: sell advertising space. Your newspaper costs a lot more to make than the $1–2 per issue or however much you pay for the online subscription. That’s not the business model. The business model is to get your eyes on that Internet provider ad right next to today’s story on the war in Syria.
I’m not saying the news are lying to you. They’re probably not outright lying to you, even if they do have an agenda on top of their ad revenue. I’m not saying the news are not interesting either. Most of the time they’re rather exotic and alluring! That’s why you read them. Damn, i hope to become impressive and engaging enough to make it to the news with my cycle touring gig at some point soon. No, that’s not the problem with the news. The problem with the news is that exposure to them severely fucks up your model of what reality looks like, through their drawing of a disproportionate amount of your attention to all that unusual stuff, like the all too sad story of the plane that crashed with the underdog football team traveling to compete in their first international finals, while neglecting to adequately inform you about all the boring proverbial 10 plane crashes worth of people statistically dying of malaria every day in the developing world. I’m not saying that the news don’t want you to know about poor people dying of malaria. They simply know you wouldn’t pay as much attention to that as you will to the plane crash, and they want to sell that advertisement space right next to it.
If you paid any attention to the news, you’d never want to go to Turkey. But i was there less than two months ago, and it felt a bit more like this:
You don’t need most of that stuff being advertised anyways. So, you won’t be missing out, don’t worry. You know what you need. Look it up. Ask around. You’ll find it. You’ll even get a good deal for it!
By the way, this piece of advice includes comedy news — stay away from them. It does, however, exclude The Onion. Please keep reading The Onion. And keep listening to Reggie Watts, and such as, a lot.
I’m particularly referring to the kind of article claiming in their very title to be the last thing you’ll ever need to read to become more productive, more likable, or the next Elon Musk. First of all, you probably don’t need most of that. And if you do want to level up on any aspect of your life, pick up a book by someone who actually spent a significant amount of their lives devoted to the topic of interest, or start reading the blog in which they regularly write about it, or join a meetup or Facebook group and start interacting with people pursuing the same path, or all of the above, or yet something else that actually involves taking some action.
Change is an active process. Figure out what’s the first step towards whatever it is that you want to get better at or incorporate in your life, and get started. Today. Now. Acknowledge that by reading those articles you’re simply procrastinating that first step. In fact, i’ll be far more likely to read and take the advice of an article that gives me a clear, manageable first step, so i can actually go out and do it, rather than an article with so many recommendations that they will require me to spend half an hour after reading it pretending that i can immediately redesign how i spend 10% of my time.
It’s not that i’ll avoid reading lists altogether. I actually like lists — very much so! I just prefer the kind of list that helps me think about how they’re constructed. Besides, have you noticed how often listicles are about a topic you were not previously thinking about, but now think is the most important thing in the world to learn about? Listicles, which are designed to be consumed like cheese puffs —and also to sell advertising space— typically teach you nothing of substance about something you actually care about.
Wanna become acquainted with remote places on Earth? Play around with Google Maps. Post a question on Quora or some traveling forum, and get involved in the discussion of what being ‘remote’ even means. Is it remote in the sense that it’s super far away? Difficult to reach? Because it’s been culturally isolated for a very long time? Is it remote simply because it’s unknown? Read up the Wikipedia articles about the places you get referred to. Perhaps there’s a documentary or a book on them. Maybe some people have visited those places, taken good photographs, talked to people living there, and written engaging accounts of it in their blogs. Don’t settle for the listicle. Maybe an opportunity to go there yourself is not even such a long shot.
If you’re not interested in something, then don’t worry about it. And if you are, then don’t be shy to go all nerdy on it!
Yes, this is a listicle, and a self-improvement one at that — that’s two out of three. It’s OK. You didn’t know better 😉 But now you do. So, share it, close the tab, and move on with you life!
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This piece was edited from the article of same title originally published on Medium on January 3rd, 2017
Featured photo on the top by Saulo Mohana