Technology gives us an amazing breadth of information, from email and Twitter to task lists on OmniFocus. Yet the sheer size of what’s out there comes at a cost; the decisions of what to tackle next can be overwhelming, stressful and, given the frequent contextual switches between programs, inefficient.
As a result I’ve lately found myself turning less and less to news sites, RSS and Twitter to catch up with what’s happening. Instead I’m increasingly relying on information sources that eschew decisions, pare down content, and make a conscious effort to slow the user down. Two iPad reading apps fit this goal perfectly: Zite and Palimpsest.
Both apps intentionally limit what’s on screen at once, emphasizing a “lean back”, more methodical browsing pace. Zite packages information from the user’s Twitter and RSS feeds in a magazine like format; each page rarely has more than five or six articles. Palimpsest takes this limitation even further, presenting only a single curated article to the user at a time. The experience is a welcome contrast to the “lean forward”, rapid scanning behavior that predominates nearly all RSS and Twitter clients.
With the relentless pace of news online where any one story is often covered by thousands if not millions of news sites, many of us are drowning in information. It?s a phenomenon that rang especially true during a lunch break this week: I was jumping between the New Yorker on my iPad, real time updates on the Google I/O conference from Twitter and video news clips on the BBC?s web site. After an hour of multitasking I felt over saturated; ironically it felt like I was taking a break from my lunch ?break? by returning back to project work.
To combat news overload, I like to stick with one simple rule: Get your news and information from as few sources as possible. Not using that news magazine app lately? Delete it. Haven?t read up lately from that one RSS feed? Unsubscribe. Have several websites that you check out each day yet their content overlaps heavily? Stop visiting all but one.
This week the details of The New York Times online subscription and paywall model were finally revealed to the public. It’s huge news for both future of online journalism and for myself on a personal level; I’ve spent more than a decade considering the Times an essential resource, from the print version in my early college days to the iPhone and iPad apps in heavy use today. That said, after pouring over the details, I’m very dissatisfied with the Times model, and I feel strongly the paywall will fail for three reasons: it’s confusing and complex, it provides no added benefits or perks for paid subscribers versus what’s available today and the monthly cost is too high.
I’ll go into each of these points in greater depth, but it’s important to first note I believe strongly a subscription model makes sense. The existing internet standard of advertising can’t support coverage with such international breadth and depth that the Times provides; something has to give. That said, a subscription plan as poorly thought out as the Times, especially after 14 months of internal deliberation, is inexcusable.
Cairo?s recent democratic uprising rightfully received heavy news coverage from practically everyone, be it the Sunday talk shows, CNN or the New York Times. Nevertheless, to my surprise, for weeks an extended written chronology from the ground had been missing.
Leave it to The New Yorker to fill the void. Reporter Wendell Steavenson camped out in a hotel adjacent to Tahir Square, conducting interviews and reports both inside and around the historic area with everyone from low level military officers to anti-Mubarak protesters. Even with a 7000 plus word count (Steavenson reported for a full two week period leading up to Mubarak’s resignation) it?s a fast read given that much of the piece focuses on action (e.g. skirmishes, clashes with police) from within the square.
As I look back at what changed for me in 2010, Twitter grew in stature significantly. My followers doubled and I used the Twitter iPhone and iPad apps more during idle moments. In addition, the social media source largely overtook RSS to become my “go to” starting point to explore the latest news in tech, film and other subjects.
None of this would have been possible without having a great set of people to follow in the first place. Interestingly, while there’s a very smart population on Twitter, I find the majority tweet too infrequently or keep content strictly self promotional. Thus to make this list, it was important to be prolific and insightful with the 140 character limitations of the medium itself.
What follows below is a handful of Twitter users I’m happy to have started following in 2010, organized roughly by subject matter.
The yearly “best of” lists are endless this time of year, yet I’ve found music, film and gaming critics are mostly coalescing best of status around a smaller set of favorites like Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (best album), The Social Network (best film) and Red Dead Redemption (best game.) Overall, there are few surprises.
That leaves the choices for 2010’s best books – an increasingly relevant medium in wake of the Kindle, iPad and Instapaper’s rise – to be all over the place. Where’s a good place to start? I’d give my first recommendation to Slate’s compilation. In contrast to the bare bones New Yorker list, I found Slate’s explanation to be lengthy enough to generate interest, yet not going so far as to be unwieldily. I also found their selection among fiction and non fiction the most varied and interesting.
Praise has been widespread on David Fincher’s The Social Network, with Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers going so far to declare it the film to define the last decade. Hyperbole aside, it’s rare to see commentary on the film that goes beyond the core plotting and filmmaking elements. That’s what makes writer Zadie Smith’s critique in the The New York Review of Books interesting; she adds some deft insight on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the often enigmatic relationship between the Internet generation (“millennials”, those under 30) and everyone else. As she surmises, The Social Network is “a movie about [generation] 2.0 people made by 1.0 people.” Her filmmaking coverage doesn’t skimp either, examining everything from the film’s dialogue heavy opener (Smith calls it “restless”) to Fincher’s lensing and audio cues at a later club scene.
Though Obama clearly electrified the American public back in his 2008 election run, since taking office the press have often portrayed him as a more enigmatic figure. It’s become something of a journalistic clich? to portray the “real” Obama as a cool, cerebral and inward focused president. That’s precisely why Peter Baker’s New York Times Magazine profile of Obama is especially fascinating; Baker reveals a lot of nuggets on Obama’s steps ahead (“Obama 2.0”) and little insights of Obama’s day to day (basketball trash talking, bewilderment at today’s polarized cable TV climate.) Required reading for almost anyone with even a vague interest in U.S. politics.