Reading habits

I intended to write this as a comment at Matt Zimmerman’s post on ways he reads, but it got rather long.

Let’s start with books. I also don’t read as much as I used to, but I am trying to do more of it and less of other reading. I was struck by Kate Harding’s post on reading:

… that’s a wonderful thing, especially for people who for various reasons can’t be physically present everywhere they might like to be, or who find it much easier to be social this way. But for me, the blessing and the curse of it is, I spend much more of my life than I used to thinking about what I’m going to say next. I’m composing a comment in response to what I just read instead of sitting with it; I’m having “chats” with friends where there can be no pleasant silences without one of us wondering if the other is still there; if I’m observing the world around me, half the time I’m thinking, “How do I make this a funny tweet?” When I was writing for Broadsheet, I read other feminist blogs desperately looking for fodder, rather than just taking it all in because it’s smart and interesting — which is exactly what got me interested in them and made me want to start my own in the first place.

All that thinking up something to say gets fucking exhausting.

I’m not going to insert the mandatory I love the feel and smell of paper thing about books here: I for one couldn’t give a toss about it and, except for the heavy metal aspect (and what an aspect it is), bring on the e-reader revolution. I will happily remove bookshelves from my home and hang nice things on my walls. But the thing about books is that, allowing for 95% of everything being crap, they’re planned, revised, edited, checked and they have a lot of space to say what they’re saying. There are exceptions, but the general rule is that I get a lot more out of one good book read over a few days than I do out of 100 good blog posts over that time.

I’m trying to work out what to do about news. The trouble with news is that I do need an editor: I like to know what’s going on in the world but I don’t naturally find out about it in my normal activities. I find out things from social justice blogs, which are important to me, and I find out things from the Sydney Morning Herald’s website, and there’s a lot of things in between I am missing out on. I tried Google News, but I think the cramming of all that news onto one page makes me run and hide. I actually suspect the answer here is TV news bulletins and I’m thinking of adding, say, the ABC’s and SBS’s evening bulletins to my life on a regular basis. Then I know roughly what’s going on and there’s plenty of detailed print journalism to turn to when I want to follow something up.

I read a lot of email still, although for years I’ve been limiting (non-work-related) mailing lists to a 75% test: if I am not reading 75% of the posts to the list, I unsubscribe. Regular readers of technical mailing lists will immediately understand how few mailing lists I am subscribed to now.

I was until recently fairly firmly on the mailing list site of the mailing-list-versus-web-forum debate. But I’ve realised that this is really more about tools, that is, mail readers are more mature than forum interfaces *and* you can use your favourite mail reader for all lists. Each forum has its own, bad, UI, on it’s own, regularly crashing, server.

But some of the features of forums, especially but not only the ability to move or delete or edit posts or entire threads after publication, are useful for high volume discussion. I’d love to see work on development of both standards and tools for more moderated threaded discussion that does not bind as tightly with a single UI. (I’ve used Usenet/NNTP. It’s not what I’m looking for.) Really I’d love to do that work, even, but it’s not a one-person job, buy-in is needed from software developers and users.

At the moment I follow a few web forums, mostly related to parenting things. I resist becoming too actively involved (ie, I’m not a regular poster at any and certainly don’t want to moderate, I keep the relationship to a state where I can regularly take breaks of months from a given forum and no one notices).

I read a lot of blogs (really, a lot). They get subjected to the 75% test too, largely, at least if they update frequently. About a year ago I gave up trying to be basically completionist: if I went away and you blogged during that time, I didn’t read it.

For a long time now I’ve been a fan of personal life-blogs over most other genres. I want to keep up with the educated, researched, niche blogs like Language Log or LWN (OK, the latter doesn’t think of itself as a blog, but it’s in my feed reader, so to me it is) but I find it difficult to be in the mindset to read it as I go through my reader and I can’t think of a good model for setting them aside and going through a bunch of them, especially since I do web reading at my desk. I also want to keep up with hypertextual discussions on social justice issues, but that also easily becomes a second full-time job.

I used to like the big aggregators, but now someone needs to do a highlights column. I care deeply about my baby and my PhD, but I don’t really care about the life milestones of, say, a given random Ubuntu developer. If someone else could pick the top three technical blog posts of the week and I could just read them, I’d prefer that.

I read less and less of microblogs or Facebook and I think it’s going to stay that way. I feel a bit bad about it, since I like writing a microblog, I just don’t like staying on top of my stream. I’m very over the 140 character limit too, it’s too easy to get into needless arguments because my teeny sentence missed a nuance and then I have to clarify with someone, 140 characters at a time. I read direct replies to me, and every so often I surf over and read the most recent 50 or so items I’m subscribed to and that’s about it.

There’s things about Facebook I like (more generous character limit, reply threads, the ‘Top News’ sorting) but I do intend to leave. Just, people keep announcing the birth of their babies exclusive to Facebook. Knock it off!

I don’t really find shared links as useful as Matt does, possibly I need a better tool for it. But I think the theme of most of this is that really, I am turning to edited content, sometimes by pros and sometimes by very smart people who spend a lot of time on the ‘net. I am not cut out to be an editor in that sense, at least, not most of the time. Probably no one is.