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Death By Information

This time around, I selected around 15 topics I care a lot about and hand-picked the 5 best sites for each. In all, 75 total feeds that are averaging between 300 and 500 posts per day. Any given time I log in to Google Reader I see around 30 or 40 unread posts, where I used to see hundreds. Getting through all of these takes just a couple of minutes, not 30 minutes or however long it would take me to get through them when I didn’t just give up and hit Mark as Read.

Since the change? I’ve felt less overwhelmed by information and unread counts. My read ratio is a lot higher too. Very close to 100%, actually. And I don’t feel like I missed a thing. In fact, this only helped me realize that the fear of missing out has played a large role in what drives my RSS (and social media) usage in general.

Caterina Fake (co-founder of Flickr) wrote a great article on this fear, called FOMO and Social Media:

FOMO is a great motivator of human behavior, and I think a crucial key to understanding social software, and why it works the way it does. […] Social media has made us even more aware of the things we are missing out on. You’re home alone, but watching your friends status updates tell of a great party happening somewhere. You are aware of more parties than ever before. And, like gym memberships, adding Bergman movies to your Netflix queue and piling up unread copies of the New Yorker, watching these feeds gives you a sense that you’re participating, not missing out, even when you are.

An almost endless amount of information (news, social sharing, status updates, etc), combined with easy to use technology that allows us instant access, creates both the feeling of participating and connecting with others, without doing either in most cases. Like knowing what your friend is up to through Facebook updates, but not actually participating in their life through truly connecting. All while feeling a need to constantly check your news feed to make sure you didn’t miss anything important.

And she even related all of this back to Buddhism:

It’s an age-old problem, exacerbated by technology. To be always filled with craving and desire (also called defilement, affliction) is one of the Three Poisons of Buddhism, called kilesa, and it makes you a slave. There is true meaning in social media — real connections, real friendships, devotion, humor, sacrifice, joy, depth, love. And this is what we are looking for when we log on.

All is not lost, though. These tools, from RSS to Facebook and Twitter, have potential to create real connections and help us become better people through knowledge, laughter and compassion. The important thing to remember, though, is that these tools help us complete tasks (connect, learn, share, remember, etc.), not become tasks. Once you get caught up in the act of using the tool and not the result, it becomes more about the fear of not using it, than what you really get out of the process.

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