How do I clear my media backlog?
October 9, 2008 7:21 AM   Subscribe

I'm drowning in a sea of media I have no time to consume - someone please throw me a lifeline

On my to-consume media list I currently have The Wire series 5, Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis, Siren: Blood Curse for PS3, Playback by Raymond Chandler, Flight of the Conchords series 1 and countless movies. And the list is growing all the time.

Regular long-haul flights are helping me make a dent in the movies backlog, but how do I tackle the rest, short of holing up in a monastery or container ship for a few months with my media library?

Any guidance on how you deal with this luxury problem gratefully received.
posted by to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Forgive yourself. It's not like high school where you'll get an "f" if you don't finish it all; this is for fun.

If you flat-out need the room, start by returning all the things that you borrowed from other people and tell yourself you'll just get around to it later, and then if you still have things that don't make you go "ooooh!" in anticipation when you think about reading/watching them, then...either give them away or put them in a box for later.

But after that...yeah, just forgive yourself. The world will not end if you never actually get around to watching TRAINING DAY or whatever; if you do see it, great, if not, well, that's life. There's a quote I saw on a poster at CITY LIGHTS bookstore in San Francisco several years ago: "The buying of more books than one can possibly read is the soul's way of trying to achieve infinity." I've taken that as my reading/media motto.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:28 AM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

One small thing that can help is if you aren't already, find a way to get rid of commercials for any TV show you're watching. TIVO, iTunes, etc, whatever you're fancy. A 1 hour show can be watched in 40 minutes. Over the course of a season you've saved between 6 and 8 hours of your life by not sitting there being told what to buy when you just want to watch some TV.

Another thing I do every so often is a "Mass Exodus" of everything. I hit "Mark All As Unread" on my Google Reader, Delete 80% of Recorded TV, and generally start back at 0. I have yet to regret a move like that and I doubt you will either in the long run.
posted by genial at 7:35 AM on October 9, 2008

Please believe me when I say I don't mean "get a life" in a judgmental way.

Look, life is not a contest to see who has read the most books or gets the most references to this or that brilliant television show. There is no reward for having spent the majority of your time as a consumer and spectator. If you pushed all of the titles you mentioned above into a big trash can and didn't replace them with anything for a whole month -- or even a year -- you would still be the same person. And you'd probably know more about that person, because your understanding of yourself would be formulated through your actions and experiences, not your reactions to the fictional actions and experiences of others.

You've reached your saturation point and you're asking us to help you sail past it. Why? It's there for a reason. I'm not one of those people who goes around chanting "Unplug! Unplug!" I enjoy a couple of shows and read as many books as I can. But you will never read every book worth reading or see every film worth seeing, so stop trying.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 7:41 AM on October 9, 2008 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Ars longa vita brevis.

posted by softsantear at 7:44 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ignore all else and watch The Wire.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:15 AM on October 9, 2008

NOT HERMITOSIS-IST nails it I think. One concrete suggestion - I don't know if you're actually buying lots of DVDs, books etc that you aren't getting round to, but if so, consider just making a list that you review periodically. That way your brain gets the reassurance that you won't forget to watch / read something you flagged as awesome, but my experience is that half that stuff looks completely "meh" after it's been sitting on the list for six months.
posted by crocomancer at 8:16 AM on October 9, 2008

Get a shelf, put you media backlog on it. Stop worrying. One day when you've got nothing to do, go to the shelf and pull something off it and read/play/listen. But until then, be happy in knowing you've got good quality exciting entertainment stocked up for those boring days that come every once in a while.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:19 AM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: And the list is growing all the time.

Stop adding to the list. Give yourself a window of [X months] that you won't add anything new to your list, unless you get more caught up or take something out of the "currently to be read/watched" pile. This way, at least the problem isn't continuing to grow.

And then, forgive yourself, and watch/read what you can, when you can. The Wire Season 5 isn't going anywhere, and if you aren't compelled to sit down and watch it rightthissecond... it will be there when you are.

I had a similar experience in 2007 -- we had amassed dozens of unwatched programs on TiVo. Whole seasons worth of shows, in some cases, that due to busy schedules we just never got to view... and we faced the same concern: "how can we possibly get caught up before the new stuff starts airing?"

Then the writers' strike happened. And while the rest of America was forced to make do with re-runs and reality shows, we had months of fresh programming ready for us.

That's not wholly parallel to your situation, but the point is that you never, ever know what could happen to suddenly create the time you are now lacking... maybe you are laid up with the flu, or stranded in an airport for three days due to ice and snow, and so on... and then, I assure you, you'll be quite grateful that you have this backlog to entertain yourself. (Also, make sure you've always got at least one "backup" DVD/book tucked away in a case when you're long-haul travelling, to insure that you're prepared to take advantage of any down time. I caught up on plenty of books while fighting jet lag or waiting for delayed planes.)

If the reason you are feeling guilt over being behind is because you aren't being edified alongside everyone else, that you aren't part of the current pop culture conversation -- there's no helpful course of action I can recommend besides to let that go. I used to feel a twinge that I couldn't participate in the online or water-cooler conversations about this book or that movie, couldn't read that funny Ebert review or comment on the Salon piece... but then I'd console myself with an ego stroke like, "Yes, self, but you haven't seen that movie yet because you've been too busy doing [other incredible fantastic thing], and lots of people would gladly trade lives with you, so suck it up."

(I recommend you let that last bit be inner monologue, or people do look at you funnily)
posted by pineapple at 8:29 AM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

The metaphor I hear frequently is "trying to drink out of a fire hydrant".

Stop trying to drink out of the fire hydrant.
posted by everichon at 8:54 AM on October 9, 2008

I have a tremendously long list of books to read. I think right now it's around 80.

Most of these are popular or award-winning young adult books that I think I should read to help me be a good YA librarian.

I had a lot of guilt over how many books I hadn't read until last year I realized that most of the much-hyped books that people were screaming over at the time... fell off the radar a year later, and it didn't actually matter that much whether I'd read them or not.

And the moral of this story is: if you make a conscious decision to just cut some of those things out of your life, nothing bad is going to happen. You can always watch them in a year or two if you still want to. Or you can forget about them and let new things take their place later; the media onslaught seems likely to continue.
posted by Jeanne at 8:58 AM on October 9, 2008

I've physically constrained my list. I have a top shelf of my bookshelf devoted to "books/movies, unread/unwatched". If something new comes in, something old has to get kicked out and donated, given back.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:24 AM on October 9, 2008

I suppose you could measure a person's capacity for culture by their rate of consumption. That is one kind of capacity, after all. Breadth of learning per se is not a bad thing.

But culture is also supposed to deepen you. And the pursuit of that objective can be at odds with the first. If you are always reading, you never have time to digest anything you've read. If you are always listening to music, you never have time to reflect in silence on what you've heard. In short, you're letting your curriculum stimulate you without letting it really change you. You're more full of ideas and sensations, but you handle those ideas and sensations the same as you always did.

Slow down and let it sink in.
posted by bricoleur at 9:38 AM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

I give you permission to not read any book in your to-be-read pile, not watch shows on your TiVo, not watch DVDs, not listen to CDs. Watch the ones you really want to watch at any given moment. It's okay; they're making more content all the time and some of it will be excellent. You can get stuff at Netflix or the video store if you decide that the show you deleted from TiVo is all that important.

I just went 5 months with no teevee, and all my books, including the unread ones, are packed up. I missed some good shows; watched some good and bad DVDs. I read some good books, and some utter crap. Missed the season opener of House, but it will be on again, and again. Missed the 1st Presidential debate, but CSpan put it on Youtube.

So just give up and let most of it go. Worry more about missing the sunset, the moonrise, the clear night sky when you can see the Milky Way. Worry much more about missing dinner with a friend or a phone call from family.
posted by theora55 at 9:40 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I do a couple things, as a voracious media consumer. First off, I started taking the bus not least because it gives me an excellent opportunity to read books. Second, I try to bust out blocks where I'm like, for an hour, I'm just going to listen to music. Third, I use the library. It's free, it's got a huge selection, and I feel absolutely no guilt at all about returning things if I'm not in the mood for them because they'll likely be there again, and if not, well, there are plenty more things that are there.
posted by klangklangston at 9:53 AM on October 9, 2008

Is it possible you're not actually interested in all things you say you "want" to watch/read? My Netflix list is over 200 movies, but sometimes I find that I get a DVD... and I really don't want to watch it, I'm just not as interested as I thought. I don't force myself to consume things just because I think I should, which frees up lots of time for stuff I really enjoy.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:05 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

OK, I have been where you are. I have three shelves of books and a few dozen movies waiting for my attention now, not to mention around a hundred series of lectures on mp3.

Your problem is not the excess of media on your queue. What you don't realize is that your queue simultaneously contains only one item (the current one) and every item in the universe that could possible interest you. You are always caught up, or you never will be caught up, depending on how you look at it. So your problem is not the amount of things on your waiting list. It is your attitude toward the list. I think you can solve your problem in two steps.

1. Read, watch, or play whatever it is you feel like at the time without worrying about what is next.

When you have got this one down, move on to

2. Do less reading, watching, playing, and more thinking about about what you read, watched, or played. You will feel the need to consume less because you are consuming better. Really.
posted by fidelity at 10:07 AM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Another quotation, this one from Mark Twain: "A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read." May or may not strike a chord with you.

I agree with TPS (as is often the case). Do you tend to get absolutely absorbed in everything you watch/read/play, or do you just kind of plug through them out of a sense of obligation or self-betterment? If it's the former, then my advice isn't going to help much, but if it's the latter, allow yourself to abandon stuff you don't find yourself getting into. It's okay to give up on any book after twenty pages if you don't like it; doesn't matter how brilliantly written or culturally important it is.

Also, these books and shows are not going to rot if you leave them on the shelf; they'll be there forever. If something's truly worth your time, you'll enjoy it just as much six months from now. If you really want to watch a movie now, but never get around to it and eventually forget about it, so what? If you remember it later, you'll either think "hey, I'll go rent that this weekend" or "yeah, I don't really want to see it so much anymore."
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:36 AM on October 9, 2008

I completely fail to understand this question. As you well know, you can exercise judgment in prioritizing, either by watching the tastiest stuff first or the stuff you know you should watch first; no one here knows your tastes, and the "countless movies" means that they can't opine if they so wanted. But you know that.

You could toss the stuff or give it away. But you know that.

You could reduce the time you OR ANYONE ELSE has to watch media by posing questions on AskMe and watching the replies. But you know that . . . Hey!
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 11:12 AM on October 9, 2008

Just watch Flight of the Conchords and don't worry about the rest.
posted by daser at 11:17 AM on October 9, 2008

This may be totally unhelpful, but my quality of life went up when I got rid of my cable and Netflix. Now I have time to sleep 9 hours each night! And I have a way better social life. And I'm saving a ton of money, and can watch shows on DVD from the library or for free online, whenever I'm sick or bored. (True, I'm waaay behind on everything, but it's like knowing you have the best books of a great series waiting for you in the future. Also I have this fantasy of me 50 years from now in the nursing home, being endlessly entertained with no regrets.) Also, if I may repeat-- NINE HOURS A NIGHT.

Okay, otherwise I'd say just make a running list of what to see and devote yourself to checking stuff off, and not stress about catching up. It's supposed to be a relaxing thing, not a stressful thing.
posted by np312 at 12:30 PM on October 9, 2008

Best answer: You'd be amazed at how much stuff is hailed as incredible/fantastic/must-see/must-read that just drops off the face of the earth six months later. I hate to sound like a nutter, but I really think that it's just the way for most soft-news media to fill up space. They've got to put out x number of film or book reviews every month, and a certain percentage have to be positive, or nobody but the true curmudgeons will read them. Plus, a lot of media outlets have found that their sales go up when their reviews are breathless. So then things that are okay become 'great,' and things that are good become 'must-see.'

I don't read/watch/listen to anything unless I can still find people recommending it at least one year after it came out. Two years is even better. The result of this is I'm not wasting my time w/ mediocre products (for the most part). Do I miss out on things that might be good? Sure, but that would be the case anyway, since I can't see/read everything. Am I out of the loop on LOTS of water-cooler conversations? Yup. But I've found that it is often better to find and talk with the considerably smaller number of people who aren't too worried about reading something because all the cool kids are doing it.
posted by nushustu at 12:37 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just watch Flight of the Conchords and don't worry about the rest.

Not to pick on any one answer, but this mentality is part of what got the poster into this jam to begin with. No matter what your tastes are or how much you indulge, the implication hissed from all sides is "YOU ARE MISSING OUT..."

You know what? Even if something is amazing, not everyone will adore it. I watched the first season of The Wire and thought it was perfectly decent, but ultimately not really my thing. I don't need to force myself to watch four more seasons in hopes of attaining the reaction other people had.

Ditto on what bricoleur said. If a friend saw a film in the theater and recommended it to you, are you really gaining the benefit of that recommendation if you're pounding down movies via a tiny screen on a flight, one after another? Quality, not quantity. We're all very lucky that we have so much incredible entertainment to choose from -- the moment it feels like a burden, you're doing it wrong.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 1:13 PM on October 9, 2008

Best answer: I have the same problem, and I deal with it by making a list of everything that I want to do, by category (books, video games, anime, etc). When I have free time, I think to myself "I feel like... watching an anime right now". Then I go do the thing on the relevant list that I want to do most - within a group, it's usually pretty easy to pick one that you want to do more than any other.

It's also useful for situations where only one activity works. Have a few free hours on your flight? Read a book. No access to internet and limited carrying capacity? Bring the DS.

I think the key is to realize that you won't ever get through your media backlog. But every time you come across something you want to do, just stick it on the list, with the understanding that you'll either eventually get to it, or you'll spend that time doing something else you'd rather do anyway. Win-win.

Also, having a list is great for those days where you suddenly have a glut of free time and need something fun to do, but magically can't think of a single thing you want to do. It's rare, but it happens.
posted by jasminerain at 10:57 PM on October 9, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the kind words. Your answers were generally helpful - remarkably so given the roily/melodramatic nature of my original question. A couple of clarifications:

The backlog is not primarily a physical collection/concern - it's in the form of aXXos, Amazon wishlists, mental notes etc.

Others offered homilies like "slow down and let it sink in", or "quality not quantity", which missed my point: I'm not having problems digesting/appreciating the media I'm currently consuming, rather I want to consume additional quality content but I'm constrained by time.

In the end I marked up the best practical/philosophical answers which tackled my original question. softsantear, thanks for adding to my media backlog, and pineapple - let's pray for another writers' strike.
posted by at 11:40 PM on October 9, 2008

I try to watch a lot of movies, but it takes forever. So every week I invite a different friend over. We make dinner or wait for delivery while we catch up, then watch the movie while we eat. Combines film literacy with a social life.
I listen to podcasts while I cook, do dishes, or clean the apartment. Combines chores with science.
I watch one episode of a good TV show on DVD before bed every night. You're already in bed, a 22min episode of a sitcom keeps you current on pop culture but also doesn't take too long.

And also, actively look for reasons to cut things from the "must consume" list.

If a blog or poddcast in my RSS reader is boring a few times in a row, I unsubscribe. I just skim RSS headlines on many of the bloogs I read, instead of reading the whole post or the summary. If I don't like a book by about page 15, I'm allowed to put it down and then give it away. If I think a series or movie is boring, I quit watching it. You're a grownup: practice just saying "no, because I said so!" it feels good.

Art and culture are supposed to be fun, not force-feed.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:37 PM on October 10, 2008

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