Tuesday, December 23, 2008

RSS Feed = Sloth?

Man, the Internet is my favorite tool next to a good drawing pen or a good writing pen. It's actually - for better or worse - become my main tool these days. I use it extensively for fact-checking and drive-by research. Ostensibly, I would actually be using the vast powers of the web for further contributing to this digital Library of Alexandria, but really, I'm a lot more of a passive than active user of the Internet. (If any proof of this is needed, just go to my website and check out the last time I updated it.)

As this passive user that would like to be a more active participant, I am always interested in new internet-based technologies and ideas. I love the ideas of wikis, blogs, cameras that upload direct to your flickr account, all of that shit. The thing is, I am definitely not an early adopter. Case in point: it was only last week that I learned how to use RSS feeds.

RSS feeds are magic - it's like it pulls all of the parts of the Internet that you are interested in to one, easily accessible place. No longer do I have to remember a series of URLs that I like to visit daily! No longer do I have to think about using "bookmarks". (I kind of shun bookmarks because when I use them, I overuse them, then never organize them. There is no need to bookmark every French and Dutch learning website on the English speaking Internet.) I use Google's Reader to pull all of my feeds.

The first day I used Reader was magic - I was reading about all sorts of fascinating arts news (something that I never seek out on a daily basis), posting links to different things on facebook. It was great. I had about twenty feeds. By the end of the day, I subscribed to thirty more. The next morning, I found that I had over 500 articles to catch up on. Note that I write "to catch up on": rather than finding a wealth of magic in my feed, I found a bunch of stuff that I immediately felt that I needed to battle my way through. There were twenty-five posts about opera, which I am about as interested in as I am in football or cars. "Mark as read", "mark as read", "mark as read". After a few hours, I'd gotten it down to a manageable two hundred articles. I probably really read about twenty. And that was one day.

The next day was a Saturday and (as my ever-patient girlfriend, Heather, can attest), I spent most of the day reading things that interested me, but mostly, clicking through things that I wasn't interested in reading. Here are some things that you might not know: a lot of webcomics are written by guys that read a lot of manga and play World of Warcraft and make comics about guys (or anthropomorphized cats) that read a lot of manga and play World of Warcraft; 95% of the content of I Can Haz Cheezburger is not funny; the New York Times has its regular articles, and then its "In Brief" articles, which are re-caps of the regular articles. Saturday was a lesson in reading judiciously; I went through my Sunday feed in about an hour.

Even factoring in the outright crap (that I shouldn't have subscribed myself to in the first place) and the articles that I'm not particularly interested in reading, there's still a lot of good stuff to find on my feeds. Enough that I spend a significant amount of time going through them, and therein lies the beauty and the horror of the feed: there's alot of interesting stuff out there. I mean, I've read about a guy that had amnesia for most of his life, and another guy that figured out how to build the atomic bomb they dropped on Hiroshima. That's cool stuff (to me) that I would have never bothered reading if I hadn't subscribed to all of these sites. At the same time, though, I have this continuous urge to always KEEP READING, to stay up-to-the-minute on my feeds. I think to myself,"Hey, this is an interesting article! I should post in on facebook, or on my blog!" Then I immediately think,"No I shouldn't! If I do that, I won't have time to read the next five articles!" Even given that, should I just be re-posting things that I find? The Internet's a vast echo chamber, and disseminating content that doesn't come directly from me feels a little wrong and unnecessary to me.

And that's the thing: I want to contribute to the Internet, not be consumed by it. Re-posting an interesting article on facebook is one thing, but re-posting it on my blog without adding additional content doesn't further anything. I simply become a step in the process of redistributing advertising, entertainment, propaganda. I think I might have to seriously cull my RSS feeds because I need to reclaim the time to casually read things, digest them, then contribute in my own way.

At the same time, I haven't even signed up for Oregonlive or Cafe Unknown yet... I better go check up on my feed now.

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