GOOD

Read Better: Five Steps to a More Balanced Media Diet

I had way too many opinions on celebrities and way too few on issues that directly affected me. It was time for a change.


I try to live in a highbrow universe, but the truth is that I could wax poetic about the salacious details in Whitney Houston’s autopsy report. I’m never more animated or articulate than when I debate the moral ills of Morgan Freeman’s romantic involvement with his step-granddaughter. (The man played God, for goodness sake!) Clearly, sometimes I read crap.


The average person spends about eight and a half hours per day looking at screens, whether through their computer, TV, tablet, or phone. On most days, I comfortably exceed that amount by more than half, reading dozens of blogs, watching television, and checking my social networks.

It wasn’t until I saw this popular TEDtalk that I began to rethink my habits. In it, Eli Pariser warns of the “filter bubble,” or the idea that web personalization is making humans miss more meaningful content. Continually searching for trashy subjects eventually yields a higher proportion trashy search results. This rule applies to your social networks, too. The more I click on my ex’s Facebook posts, the more I’d see him on my news feed (and the more I’d think about him). It’s a vicious cycle.

I also realized that I had way too many opinions on celebrities and way too few on issues that directly affected me, like health care or jobs. It was time for a change. Here are five ways I found more balance in my information diet:

1. Clean up RSS feeds and bookmarks. My Google Reader was the first to get a makeover. I cut out subscriptions that weren’t adding value to my life. TMZ got the axe when I realized that 95 percent of its coverage was of celebrity has-beens and other people I didn’t even know. (TMZ is only great in emergency situations, i.e. Whitney’s death.) Perez Hilton also had to go because the snark is often too egregious and mean-spirited. Both sites post too frequently for me to get through all of their content, so purging those feeds felt like a relief. If you don’t use an RSS, go through your bookmarks folder instead. Ask yourself: Do I trust this source? How much of my time does it take up? What do I get out of reading this content?

2. Let your social feeds lead you to the good stuff. Check out what your friends are reading on social networks. They’ll likely share stories that interest you. Many of my Facebook friends use the Washington Post Social Reader, so I’m often reading much more from my hometown newspaper because I’m clicking through their links. Also, add a few popular media feeds to your Facebook and Twitter so you’re always getting a good mix. I like to balance between straight news (CNN and NPR), smart culture writing (The Awl, Jezebel, The Believer), and a few special-interest sites with great writing (Colorlines, Grantland).

3. Set boundaries. You can get carried away on social networks, of course. You may see lots of news stories but only click on the one about Angelina Jolie’s engagement ring. Understandable—it’s a beautiful ring—but the real answer is to set time limits for yourself. I used to keep my Twitter feed open all day but now I only check in the morning and in the evening. Usually, mainstream news sources are updating their top stories in the morning while the evening stream is a bit more random. That means I feel a bit more informed about serious topics at the start of the day and let myself unwind at the end. Set rules for the amount of time you’re willing to spend monitoring a site. Wired has a helpful graphic about how to break up your nearly nine hours of screen time.

4. E-mail articles. If you’re like me, it’s easier for you to act on something if it’s in an e-mail. Instead of searching for ‘serious’ journalism, let it come to you. For $1.99 a month, I subscribe to The Best of Journalism, a newsletter of excellent long-form journalism curated by The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf. Each week, I get to read some of the best sports, science, international, and local reporting on the web. Some of the stories will make you laugh, others will make you tear up, like this recent selection about the rape of men during war. As extra incentive, I won’t move these messages from my inbox until I’ve read every story inside.

5. Embrace overlaps. For a pop culture junkie, #Kony2012 was the perfect storm of highbrow-lowbrow gossip. We got real discussions about Ugandan military policy, and we also got public masturbation. Overlaps like this can be the best way to get your trashy gossip fix while still weaning yourself off the most superficial stories. If you want to expand on your knowledge of celebrity breakups, start shifting to the next best thing: political scandals. If you’re dying to talk about Chris Brown’s latest collaboration with Rihanna, learning more about his actions in the context of domestic violence discourse will elevate the conversation.

Good luck! And happy reading.

Photo (cc) via Flickr user bravenewtraveler.

Articles
NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

Climate change means our future is uncertain, but in the meantime, it's telling us a lot about our past. The Earth's glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, but as the ice dwindles, ancient artifacts are being uncovered. The Secrets of the Ice project has been surveying the glaciers on Norway's highest mountains in Oppland since 2011. They have found a slew of treasures, frozen in time and ice, making glacier archeologists, as Lars Pilø, co-director of Secrets of the Ice, put it when talking to CNN, the "unlikely beneficiaries of global warming."

Instead of digging, glacier archeologists survey the areas of melting ice, seeing which artifacts have been revealed by the thaw. "It's a very different world from regular archaeological sites," Pilø told National Geographic. "It's really rewarding work.

Keep Reading Show less

When former Pittsburgh Steelers' center Mike Webster committed suicide in 2002, his death began to raise awareness of the brain damage experienced by NFL football players. A 2017 study found that 99% of deceased NFL players had a degenerative brain disease known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). Only one out of 111 former football players had no sign of CTE. It turns out, some of the risks of traumatic brain injury experienced by heavily padded adults playing at a professional level also exist for kids with developing brains playing at a recreational level. The dangers might not be as intense as what the adults go through, but it can have some major life-long consequences.

A new PSA put out by the Concussion Legacy Foundation raises awareness of the dangers of tackle football on developing brains, comparing it to smoking. "Tackle football is like smoking. The younger I start, the longer I am exposed to danger. You wouldn't let me smoke. When should I start tackling?" a child's voice can be heard saying in the PSA as a mother lights up a cigarette for her young son.

Keep Reading Show less
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

On Tuesday morning, President Trump tweeted about some favorable economic numbers, claiming that annual household income is up, unemployment is low, and housing prices are high.

Now, just imagine how much better those numbers would be if the country wasn't mired in an economy-killing trade war with China, bleeding out trillion-dollar-a-year debts, and didn't suffer from chaotic leadership in the Oval Office?

At the end of tweet, came an odd sentence, "Impeach the Pres."

Keep Reading Show less
Politics

October is domestic violence awareness month and when most people think of domestic violence, they imagine mostly female victims. However, abuse of men happens as well – in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. But some are taking it upon themselves to change all that.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture