Avoiding internet time-suck
March 27, 2017 2:18 PM   Subscribe

I spend far too much time reading the news. Far, far, far too much time. It's embarrassing and I'm ashamed. I kind of want to totally disconnect, but I don't believe that would be effective ultimately. Does anyone have ideas for how to stay somewhat informed without getting sucked into an endless news spiral? I'd love it if there were some digital equivalent of a very thoughtful newspaper (without links!) with only the most important pieces in it, like with a paper newspaper.

Like, seriously, it eats up almost all my spare time - I think I am currently still reading articles that budded off from articles I was reading a couple of months ago. I don't have enough willpower to avoid following branching series of links, and ideally I wish I could be someone who reads books again like I used to be - I miss that side of me a lot. I'm not sure that will ever happen while the internet - and news in particular - takes so much of my time.

I've got a thing (FB Purity - it's great for curating Facebook to be less annoying) on Facebook that I've used to mostly block from my view posts containing links, which does help me a bit. I intermittently block news websites. But I don't think that a complete block would help me - I know how to get round it, so if I feel disconnected and uninformed enough, I will get round it and end up in that spiral.

It would even help me if I had a way of reading news articles and somehow blocking them from showing me any tempting links to other articles. I seem to lose my ability after a while to judge how much I *really* want to read any particular article, and I end up reading endless articles even when it's not fun any more.

I guess another option would be to get a paper newspaper, but I really don't think that's going to happen. And I'm not really into listening to the radio; I much prefer reading.

In case anyone knows of a source that might work, I'll just tell you the type of thing that interests me. I'm left-wing, and like sites like The Guardian (I'm British), The Conversation, and Open Democracy. All of which suck me into spirals :(.

I need the internet for so many things (it is literally essential for finding work opportunities and so on), but despite the internet's many amazingnesses (like Metafilter) I often feel my life would be better in many ways if the internet didn't exist at all - that is how much this problem impacts my life.

Thanks so much.
posted by tangerine_poppies to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
The NextDraft newsletter.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:25 PM on March 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I really like Axios' newsletters - lets you filter by topic. Unfortunately comes with links. My personal favorite is "Pro Rata" but that is focused on technology.
posted by pando11 at 2:29 PM on March 27, 2017

So, essentially you need the equivalent of the Alexa "flash news briefing" function? Just the headlines and brief summaries?

What are you satisfying by spending so much time reading the news? Information input, as in keeping your mind engaged? Staying informed on the day's issues? Interacting with communities? It might help refine a solution if you can articulate the reasons why you seek out all this information.

Just out of curiosity (because I've been feeling like I can't keep up with all the news), I googled and found this link, and the Wikipedia Current Events portal listed in there seems pretty reasonable. (It's an older article but has some good tips.)

I spend a lot of time on the Internet because I want to keep my mind engaged--but I just don't have the emotional energy to deal with the news very much, so I've found that audiobooks are a great alternative for entertaining the brain without disappearing down a rabbit hole. It's also a different mechanism than looking at a screen (or a page), and after a few months of this, I've actually found it much easier to put screens down.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:31 PM on March 27, 2017

One thing I have found useful is to mentally separate all the headlines into "this happened" and "someone said something", and then try and ignore the "someone said something" articles. For example, on the Guardian UK front page at the moment, the only headline that is not reporting views and statements is the one saying "Russia Opposition leader Alexei Navalny jailed for 15 days after protests."

That means I can be aware of what is actually happening in the world without getting bogged down.
posted by Azara at 2:36 PM on March 27, 2017 [14 favorites]

I would suggest that you consider a temporary ban or fast of all news sources. That way you can reset your appetite and discover what life is like without that level of information (once you "detox" from the habitual aspects).

What does the news get you? Is this the only way to meet that need?

I went on a fast and basically never went back. I trust my social network (in-person and web-based) to mention items that are of genuine import. I cannot have the same depth of conversation I could have before this change, but I sleep better at night. And others get to be "in the know" which a lot of people enjoy. Just throwing it out there.
posted by crunchy potato at 2:40 PM on March 27, 2017 [6 favorites]

Get a subscription to the dead tree version of The Week. They do a nice job of summarizing, and then if there is something really important, you can jump on the web to read the real thing. You could also get a long form magazine like the Atlantic or the New Yorker so that you can dig into things as well as getting a quick skim.
posted by rockindata at 2:50 PM on March 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

You really really don't need 99% of the news. You need the weather and (maybe) traffic. I subscribe to my legislature's email alerts so that if a bill is introduced that concerns me, I will know about it. Also my city's alerts, for parking rule changes and snow removal schedules etc. Anything else just stresses me out.

The attack in Westminster was awful but there's nothing to be gained by reading about it. Is going to help you or me avoid future attacks? No. Can either of us prevent the next attack? No. There is no practical purpose to knowing these things. (I am not disparaging the victims, of course, but chances are slim that you one of them.)

If Something Happens, people will be talking about it. You don't need to pre-emptively stress yourself out. Taking care of yourself is more important.

Avoid News (pdf) - a long read, but worth it.
posted by AFABulous at 3:22 PM on March 27, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'd love it if there were some digital equivalent of a very thoughtful newspaper (without links!) with only the most important pieces in it, like with a paper newspaper.

I think you've answered your own question. I'm not sure why you're reluctant to get a subscription but I believe it would help with this problem.
posted by girlmightlive at 4:12 PM on March 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Can you give yourself a fixed amount of time once a day to catch up on news (say, 30 minutes a day and an hour on the weekend)? Then, after that, you're done for the day. If anything major happens in the next 24 hours, someone will tell you about it or you can just find out about it tomorrow. It mirrors the experience of sitting down with a newspaper as a morning (or evening?) ritual without the actual dead tree. You're not wasting endless amounts of time and it breaks the addictive cycle of visiting the news sites multiple times a day looking for new content.

Alternate suggestion (this is actually what I've been doing lately because I have the same problem as you): New York Times has an image of its daily front page (of its physical newspaper) on its website and I read those articles that are either on the first page or referenced on the first page. If you have a favorite publication that does this, I recommend that. Same deal, get your news once a day and then get out.
posted by eeek at 4:27 PM on March 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do you have an ebook reader? What I do is use a Firefox plugin called GrabMyBooks to grab any web page and save it as an epub file (or a mobi file back when I had a Kindle). This way I can grab, for instance, long MeFi threads (GrabMyBooks can grab different pages to the same book, so I can get TFA and the MeFi comments all in one place) and then copy to my Kobo over the USB cable without ever turning on wifi. Then I can read at my leisure without the temptation to endlessly follow links, especially since the web browsing experience on an ereader isn't the best anyway.

If logging into the wifi is still too much of a temptation, there are ereaders which don't even include it, and some of them being older models are cheap enough to consider buying just for this purpose alone.
posted by MoTLD at 7:01 PM on March 27, 2017

I spent ten years thinking "Obviously a paper newspaper isn't going to happen" and then, because my kids were getting older and I wanted something we could look at together, I started subscribing to the print New York Times again, and my god, it's so massively superior to reading news on the internet it's not even funny.

Better still: now, when I'm on twitter or something and see a link to a New York Times article, I don't click on it, because I think "that would be so silly to click on this link when the article is sitting somewhere in that stack of paper on my kitchen table!" Sometimes I actually read the article on paper and sometimes I don't, but the point is, the ones I read are the ones I actually want to read, not the ones I aimlessly/mindlessly click because I'm on the internet and mindlessly clicking is what you do on the internet.

Paper is a fucking technological miracle.
posted by escabeche at 7:35 PM on March 27, 2017 [8 favorites]

SO AGREE with Azara. Once I decided to read only actual news reports and skip all the explanatory articles "This means...This is because...This is going to happen...", then my reading time immediately got much more under control. Frequently the ratio of bloviating to actual news is 10 to 1 or more. These are not people who can put things into context. They are people who are paid to come up with words, and never never have to go back and say, "Oops, got that wrong."

Good luck!
posted by kestralwing at 7:41 PM on March 27, 2017

For me, the solution to this problem has been Instapaper.

When I see an article I want to read, instead of reading it in my web browser, I click the "Read Later" button I've put in my bookmarks bar, and it saves a text-only copy to my Instapaper account. Then before I get on the subway, I download all my articles to the Instapaper app on my phone, and I read them while I'm in transit.

This has a few advantages:

• It shifts my reading to a different time, when I'd just be sitting there doing nothing. (Also, I often find that by the time I return to an article hours or even weeks later, I can't remember why I wanted to read it, so I just delete it and save the minutes I would have spent reading it!)

• It shifts my reading to a different place, which helps in a weirdly Pavlovian way-- I can be better focused when I'm sitting at my desk because it's not the place where I sit and read random articles.

• It shifts my reading to a different format, where all the banner ads and other distractions have been stripped away. (It does retain hyperlinks within the text, so there's still the problem of branching off -- but one advantage of reading on the subway is I don't have Internet access so I can't follow links!)

The main disadvantage is: by stripping away ads, I'm depriving newspapers of a revenue source. To ease my conscious on this, we subscribe (digital only) to The New Yorker, The Guardian, and The New York Times. I view that as a self-imposed tax to help fund a working democracy.

And speaking of which, if Instapaper is too much work, you could just get a digital subscription to a thoughtful weekly or monthly publication (The New Yorker or The Atlantic). Because they're weekly, they tend to filter out a lot of the "This seems really important today but by tomorrow you will have forgotten about it" stuff that can suck up all your time.
posted by yankeefog at 2:32 AM on March 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Try reading newspapers backwards.

I read three daily newspapers on a Kindle.

Newspapers, when presented on a Kindle, are ordered Front Page first, then International, National Op-Ed, on so on. The articles at the end of the line, including the once a week features, contain reports that are not part of a continuing series and therefore can only be read on that day. Front Page, International, National and Op-Ed continuing articles do not have to be followed daily. I read newspapers this way and do not loose the thread on front line stories on days when everything cannot be read.

BTW, I can read these three papers, two national and one local in half the time that I used to read the Boston Sunday Globe. BTW again, The Kindle version of the NYT gives full access to the online version. This is a bargain.
posted by Raybun at 7:05 AM on March 28, 2017

Oh man, do I ever know these feels. I'm working on doing more book reading and less internet content reading as well. It's tough!

I used to use Feedly to consolidate my favorite blogs and news sites so that I could JUST see the new articles and not any of the "related stories" or other headlines, but even that became too much of a time sink after awhile. If you go this route, I'd be careful not to add too many RSS feeds in there or you'll end up right back where you started.

There are already a lot of great answers here about what types of services you could use to get a news digest instead of trying to drink from the fire hose that is the live websites, so here's some good resources for how to escape from your news k-hole once you're already in it.

RescueTime is a good way to track where your time is going online so you can get a holistic picture of which sites are getting the most of your time. You'll get an email every week that shows you a breakdown of how much time you spent on different sites (as well as whether that time is classified as "productive", "neutral" or "distracting").

StayFocusd (Chrome), SelfControl (Mac), Cold Turkey (multiple), and Leechblock (Firefox) are some browser add-ons or apps where you can effectively lock yourself out of certain sites at certain times or after you've spent a certain amount of time in them. This is especially helpful at work!

If you want to save interesting links to read later (at maybe a scheduled "news binge" time), Pocket and Google Keep are both good ways to save articles to read later.

Good luck!
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:36 AM on March 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I won't offer a way to solve the problem you tell yourself you have, but instead I would ask you
to question why the need "to keep up," to stay so informed. Knowing what you discovered today, how has that made things possible for you to change what you dislike ? How has being informed on so much made you happier, better, more useful? How has your need developed, and to what useful end?
posted by Postroad at 1:32 PM on March 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Economist Espresso might be what you're looking for.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 3:55 PM on March 28, 2017

What we describe as "news" tends to be divided into "actual things happening in the world" and "reactions/analysis/opinions about those things happening".

For the former, I subscribe to the NYT Morning Briefing email newsletter- it does have links but otherwise it's perfect for what you're describing. I'm sure other newspapers probably have similar services, if like me you prefer to receive your news from multiple sources.

Also, The Economist has a "Politics This Week" and "Business This Week" section in every edition of their newspaper- it's paywalled online but there are, uh, ways around that.

But if you'd like some analysis and opinion, just toned down, I recommend looking into magazines that have monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly publishing schedules- not only will there be less to process but the articles are usually more carefully considered and researched. Personally I like Foreign Affairs, which always includes a variety of viewpoints, and Jacobin (as someone who leans very left).

Oh, and lastly- you may want to keep up with news to find out things that are going to happen, like a major protest or an upcoming election. In which case, I suggest you decide on a few issues that are of particular interest to you, find organizations and groups that are centered around them, and then subscribe to what they offer. For example, voting in local elections is very important to me, so I use TurboVote to keep up to date on them.
posted by perplexion at 7:22 PM on March 29, 2017

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