On Tumblr last night, someone asked me the following question:
you always find incredibly interesting info to do writing about. how do you find this stuff
And I gave it an answer, but on reflection the answer seems too brief and shallow to describe how I do this thing. (And it also led to yesterday’s post, as a start to this trickle of thought.)
I’m not very good at it, any more. I’ve let things slide over the last couple of years. I was burned out for much of 2010, and 2011 was all about writing GUN MACHINE. This year so far has been all about fighting bad habits and trying to be more present in the world and its information flow. Some of what follows is in flux, because it includes things I haven’t fixed yet.
Websites: I manage all my blog reading via Google Reader, and the Reeder app for iPhone and iPad. I will also sometimes skim via Flipboard, and sometimes throw up Reedlines on the iPad when it’s docked, using the device as a glanceable second screen.
(I could be running Google Reader in a livestream column in Seesmic Desktop, but I’m currently not. Neither am I currently running Google Reader in a ticker on the side of my screen with the Snackr desktop app.)
I live in Chrome, and have an extension that allows me to subscribe to a site with Google Reader in one click.
Now, because someone else on Tumblr said “yeah okay but I am lazy so what do you actually read,” a selection of the 100 or so sites I currently follow:
All, Everyone, United - http://alleveryone.blogspot.com
BERG - http://berglondon.com
BLDGBLOG – http://bldgblog.blogspot.com
Chris Heathcote: anti-mega – http://anti-mega.com/antimega
Collapsonomics! = http://collapsonomics.posterous.com
Disquiet – http://disquiet.com
Eye blog – http://blog.eyemagazine.com
Fokkawolfe - http://fokkawolfe.blogspot.com
FP Passport – http://blog.foreignpolicy.com
Global Guerrillas – http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas
Global: James Bridle | guardian.co.uk – http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/jamesbridle
Informed Comment – http://www.juancole.com
Interconnected – http://interconnected.org/home
Jan Chipchase – Future Perfect – http://janchipchase.com
magCulture.com/blog – http://magculture.com/blog
mammoth – http://m.ammoth.us/blog
Near Future Laboratory – http://nearfuturelaboratory.com
Notes on metamodernism - http://www.metamodernism.com
Open the Future – http://www.openthefuture.com
PhysOrg.com – latest science and technology news stories – http://phys.org
Religion News Blog – http://www.religionnewsblog.com
russell davies - http://russelldavies.typepad.com/planning/
Secrecy News – http://www.fas.org/blog/secrecy
Sentient Developments – http://www.sentientdevelopments.com
The Mire – http://www.thewire.co.uk/themire
The New Inquiry – Shines Like Gold – http://thenewinquiry.com/blogs/shines-like-gold/
Ultraphyte – http://ultraphyte.com
Urbanscale - http://urbanscale.org
Wired: Beyond the Beyond – http://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond
I will just leave you to discover what these places are. I realise, that, for the intrepid, the above list was way too exhaustive and dull, but I really do get asked this sort of thing.
I never clear Google Reader every day. During any given week, I will read most of what Reader gathers in that week. And that’s okay. No dietician is going to bitch at you about leaving food on your plate.
For some people, a hundred-odd blogs is a very mild intake. Back in ‘07, tech blogger Robert Scoble was scanning more than 600 feeds a day, and, according to this article, that was down from 1400 in previous years. (He currently follows 32000 people on Twitter and has 5000 people in G+ circles)
Let me try this on you: the world was always bigger and denser and more eventful than mainstream media could ever communicate.
I read a newspaper every day, and I watch a well-produced, intelligent news analysis programme every night, and I have been known to leave 24-hour news running in a video window all day, and that still doesn’t give me a world picture in the way that my blog capture does. I don’t know how I did without Foreign Policy’s Morning Briefing for so long. The music scene is so exploded now that whatever I do I’m barely scratching the surface, but if I was just reading the bloody NME or something I’d be clueless in comparison to reading All Everyone Uniited and Reynolds and Fokkawolfe and etc.
To answer the original question: the only way to find interesting things to talk about is to be open to the world as possible, and tune your machinery to bring as much of it to you as possible, without getting to the point where you’re getting no time to process it. At some juncture, you have to stop reading and start writing. You have to have it in yourself to know when to close the window and say, no, okay, I need to actually think about this now. It is seductive to let successive ways of incident and ideation just wash over you, and a fascinating way to spend your time, but until you use the information, it’s not a productive lifestyle.
So, it’s a case of sitting on Google and searching keywords, and it’s also looking at what the interesting people you know or follow are reading. And who the people they’re reading are reading. Like anything, drilling down to find the good stuff is actually work.
If I had a better desktop app for Google Reader, I’d go for it in an instant. Very bad. But I would. (I wish MetroTweet, my current Twitter client of choice, would hook into Reader. I love their big bold update popup windows in the screen corner.)
Coming back to this. Needed to ground it with the practical numbers and basics first.