Prior to beginning this Lenten practice, I had fallen into the habit of spending an hour or two every night just staring at my screen, either trying to get to Zero Items in Feedly or spending an hour clicking on page after page in Buzzfeed and telling myself it was all mindless unwinding before bed.
I know -- there is a growing body of research that links sleep disruption to screen time at night. It's thought that the light from the monitor (or television) throws off melatonin production and that, in turn, makes it harder to get restorative sleep. Lord knows looking at Buzzfeed wasn't helping me sleep any better. It was just making my brain sort of numb.
And one night, I thought, "Holy carp, I am just a consumer here. I'm not doing anything constructive or productive with what I'm taking in. It's just ... empty."
One of the great things about Project Live Like A Showrunner is how it's having a ripple effect throughout all the spheres in my life. I follow a handful of basic rules to feel more awesomely energetic and less fortysomething-ly achy, and keeping to those rules has forced me to do things like plan ahead, rigorously prioritize and squeeze a lot more action into the same handful of hours I've always had.
Now I'm trying to apply that same sort of structure to my promiscuous media consumption. How bad is it? Consider what I'm sucking down in a typical week:
Podcasts: Freakonomics Radio; The Broad Experience; Radiolab NYC; Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me; The Flop House; The Incomparable; Welcome to Night Vale; The Smartest Man in the World; Planet Money; BBC World Service Global News; Washington Week podcast; Frontline audiocast; From Our Own Correspondent on BBC Radio 4; More or Less: Behind the Stats. (All available via iTunes)
Magazines: Weekly, I get The New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly; US Weekly. (I let my Economist subscription lapse, but I miss it for the obituaries alone.) Monthly, I get Outside magazine and Martha Stewart Living.
Books: I'm still averaging one book a week, though you'd never know it to look at my GoodReads account.
The problem is that if I read something really engaging too close to bedtime, I'm up all night because my brain's so excited by what I read. So I now have my books mentally sorted into two piles: bedtime reading and feed-your-head reading, and I feel woefully behind on the latter.
Television: Between the TiFaux and Hulu, the shows I currently catch on the regular* include Archer, Bob's Burgers, Justified, Arrow, Agents of SHIELD, Vikings, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Shark Tank, Almost Human, Parks and Recreation, Community, Portlandia, Episodes, The Americans.
We have True Detective queued up for whenever we feel too good about life in general or as if we have too much mental or emotional bandwidth.
(* For a given value of "On the regular" meaning, "I get in two-three episodes at a go once or twice a week, unless it's Shark Tank, which is perfect 'Coma Friday' viewing.")
The World Wide Web: I have 93 different RSS feeds, all of which update at varying frequencies. It is terrifying to open my Feedly after a weekend offline. (Bonus: None of those feeds are Buzzfeed!)
Email: I get headline round-ups from four different news entities, plus three "Fun local things to do!" newsletters aimed at assorted aspects of my life (environmentalism, doing outdoorsy things, being a parent), plus three curated news round-ups, plus six blogs that don't have RSS feeds but do email their posts. I filter my Gmail more rigorously than a germophobe filters her water.
Social media: I have sifted the 419 Twitter feeds I follow into several lists, and I use Tweetdeck to manage my lists so I can do more subject- or task-oriented Twitter reading. I am on Facebook a few times a day, mostly to check in with private groups. I have both Google+ and LinkedIn accounts but have not really made those part of my regular jam.
It's too much. I have made my peace with the fact that I cannot listen to All The Things, read All The Things, watch All The Things. But I'm still gorging.
Here is the question I am chewing on, and where I'd welcome your suggestions and best practices. How do you form the criteria by which you find any source of media to be valuable? What comprises "valuable" over time? Is it better to have a breadth of media across different platforms and topics, or to specialize to a point where your knowledge of one medium or one genre is so deep as to be abyssal?
I try to include media sources that push me outside the comfort zone-- of subjects I already know, interests which reliably provide intellectual gratification, perspectives that validate and reinforce mine. But there is something to be said for the comfort of wearing into a subject or perspective until you know backward and forward.
How do you decide what your brain's going to eat? What are your rules? I'm certainly not going to become the next Maria Popova, so you can be sure I'm working to get a handle on this rampant overconsumption and underproduction.