Algorithm Antipathy

There’s a good Art of Manliness piece about escaping algorithms and using the social-internet — RSS feed aggregators and email newsletters — instead of relying on social-media to read articles and surf websites. I’ve written likewise — Zero Feeds Experiment and Finding Feedly Again — so the AoM bit resonates.

For example:

“Now that I just consume my content via RSS or email, I’ve found myself spending less time online. I check my RSS feeds in the morning and in the evening. That’s it. Since there’s no social commentary on RSS feeds, there’s no reason to keep checking back to see what other people had to say. You just read the article and you’re done. There’s some finitude to it.”

Since quitting social media, I’m less online too…to an extent. If you remove something — like Twitter — then you’d better intentionally replace it with a better thing. Else, another bad habit gets vacuumed into the empty space left behind. So I admit that overall, my online time is about the same thanks to…YouTube. It’s the one algorithm that captures my attention.

That said, I spend far less time “checking things” habitually, either on my smartphone or my laptop. I had removed the email and browser apps from my phone for over a month — a game changer for me.

The few times I check things, it’s in algorithm-free Feedly. Cautiously reluctant to reintroduce it to my web-flow, I now use it very intentionally and sparingly. I no longer compulsively check for new and novel headlines and I don’t mindlessly surf sites, crashing on waves of terribly pushed ads.

While such aggregators have distinct advantages over algorithmic feeds, they’re not perfect. Yes, there’s finitude, which is apparent by the displayed number of unread articles. But that number can grow very high, especially if you follow prolific publishing sites.

To combat this, I selectively eliminated several website feeds that exceeded a certain threshold — like 100 articles per week — or were otherwise redundant. This cut the overall article count significantly. Having glutted on RSS feeds before, I recognize when my brain needs to back off. So I’ve settled on a comfortable amount of news content to consume.

The benefits of direct control over my content consumption are indeed worth the “old-school” efforts required. It’s all about being intentional. The Art of Manliness post has much more good to say about this topic, so be sure to check it out when you have time. And for more overall, Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism weighs in here too.

Do you enjoy RSS or newsletters over social media?