Reading Intentionally: Why I Quit RSS

About three weeks ago, I quit reading RSS feeds.

I didn’t gradually unsubscribe from a few feeds here and there until they were gone. I just stopped.

Now, I read Kindle books and hand-picked articles in Instapaper instead.

And it’s been fantastic.

Why I Quit

There was too much noise. Even with the relatively small number of feeds to which I was subscribed, almost none of it was interesting to me. I realized that, for some reason I couldn’t quite recall, I felt obligated to stay abreast of new developments in technology and such.

That fabricated obligation led me to routinely scan big lists of headlines and, more often than not, mark the whole mess as “read” and go on to something else. Imagine this happening 2-4 times per day and I was spending between 10-30 minutes per day skimming or ignoring stuff that, for the most part, wasn’t what I wanted to read.

What’s Different Now

Since that fateful day, the app I reach for when taking a walk or answering the call of nature has become the Kindle app. I’m reading and enjoying more books now than I have in quite some time. Reason being, I rarely set aside large blocks of time to read (a problem I’m in the process of rectifying) and this newfound habit has meant that I now take small bites of books throughout the day and week instead of letting them collect digital dust until I can don my smoking jacket and park it outside with a cigar and a brandy for two hours.

(Note that I don’t actually like brandy.)

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s probably better (or, at least, more efficient) to read books in larger blocks of time than I do. The cool part about my existing setup is that I don’t have to click back a few pages to get context when I pick up [one of several devices] to read — it usually hasn’t been more than 3-4 hours since I last read that same book and what I last read hasn’t had time to go stale in my dumb head.

My other go-to reading app is an old favorite for many of you: Instapaper. The difference is that now I don’t just open the app once in a blue moon and discover dozens of articles that I no longer have any interest in reading. Now the app gets opened once every two or three days, minimum. The contents aren’t so old that I don’t recognize them and the list is almost always manageable.

Basically, I now spend more time reading what I want to read instead of what I decided I should read months ago (when I subscribed to a given RSS feed).

“Ok, Smarty Guy. What About News and Other Timely Happenings?”

It’s probably good to point out here that, in recent months, my interest in technology news has dried up considerably. I used to really give a crap about the newest mobile dingus or which company is suing which other company this week. Let’s just say that I no longer give anywhere near the size of the crap that I once did about these things. Not a value judgement or anything — if that’s your thing, then I heartily encourage you to continue giving larger craps about it than I do.

If something really “important” (because, really, most of it isn’t) happens, I usually find out via Twitter. I still follow a whole pantload of tech enthusiasts and they’re the perfect delivery mechanism for what’s new and exciting in the world. Except now, instead of feverishly clicking through to see what all the hubbub is about, I just add it to Instapaper. Then, I give myself permission to not read it if, when I do come to it in my list of unread articles, it doesn’t interest me anymore.

The Philosopy

As white dudes go, I’m pretty busy. I’ve got a wife (who is also a stay-at-home mom and homeschool teacher), two kids, a day job and plenty of after-hours activities to keep me busy. It may sound narcissistic, but I feel a lot better laying my head down at night knowing that I spent 30-45 random minutes reading books and articles that I actually want to read instead of frustratedly skimming news that usually doesn’t interest me.

And, like I said earlier, I love it.

Actionable Advice

If you find yourself wishing you read more books and such, then let me implore you to give this a go. I can tell you that whatever worries you have about missing the latest [OMG whatever earth-shattering thing] are probably unfounded.

Going whole-hog might be a bit of a stretch for some of you. I get that. If you’re not quite ready to cut this particular cord just yet, then may I suggest “un-automating” your news consumption habit a skosh. Pick a handful of sites you really like and just, you know, visit them in your web browser every couple of days. Really, anything is better than having yet another inbox you have to check, feel bad about ignoring, then summarily clear out like Grandma’s garage every few days.