How do people deal with the torrent of information that rains down on us all? What's the secret to staying on top of the news without surrendering to the chaos of it? In this series, we ask people who seem well-informed to describe their media diets. This is from a conversation with Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, author of The Long Tail and Free, and founder of DIY Drones and BookTour.com
Basically, I have a feed-centric media diet. Things come to me through various means--Twitter, RSS, email. But I don't have bookmarks, and typically I don't go to any website as a routine, aside from those I run.
In the morning, I open Google reader. The feeds are largely in order of fires-I-have-to-put-out-first. There's very little pleasure in it, just making sure the doors are locked and the taps are off and the oven's not on.
There are three categories: media stuff, business stuff and robotics. First, I check the business sites. I start with things I count on a lot--Silicon Valley Insider, the Wired Epicenter blog, Fastcompany.com.
Then, I'm not proud of this, but I do check Gawker every morning. They tend to cover the media industry well. I'd like to say it's a love-hate relationship with Gawker, but in truth I have total, unmitigated respect for what Nick Denton has done. Even when they come after me, which is not infrequent, they're generally pretty fair. My hat's off to them. Even though I do sort of have to read them between my fingers.
That's all between the baby waking us up at 6:30 and my shower. It's what I need to know to get me through the morning.
I don't really have much time to read during the day. My day is largely meetings, phone calls, and scheduled stuff. I'll only read email and my Twitter feeds. I read the headlines to get a sense of the pulse of the day, but rarely click through. I follow 226 people on Twitter, which feels about right. I certainly don't want to go above 300.
Most of my essential commentators are on Twitter. People like Paul Kedrosky, Tim O'Reilly, your own Alexis Madrigal, many people from the Wired world, Dylan Tweney, Glenn Fleishman. I really respect and admire Jason Calacanis. I know he's a polarizing figure, but I'm on the pro side. I like Henry Blodget, and I think what John Gruber of Daring Fireball has done is fascinating. Felix Salmon, I can't not mention him--he's very high on my list.
We get a delivery of the New York Times, because my wife likes to read it. I don't read it in print, but when I do I love it. I think of it as a daily magazine rather than a newspaper--from the world we live in rather than the political news cycle.
As a monthly magazine editor, I'm professionally almost obligated not to be distracted by the daily news. If I get caught in the news cycle, it just throws us off. We end up chasing the news ineffectually. It does leave me curiously oblivious to the stuff going on around us sometimes. I only heard about the Super Bowl a week afterward.
Nassim Taleb once advised people to ignore any news you don't hear in a social context. From people you know and, ideally, face to face. You have two combinatorial filters in social communication. First, you've chosen to talk with these people, and second, they've chosen to bring it up. Those two filters--a social and an importance filter--are really good ways of identifying what really matters to people. If I hear about news through social means, and if I hear about it three times, then I pay attention.
This takes me to my geeky interests. One thing I'm focused on is the Maker movement. This puts me in the 3D printer, 3D authoring tools, CNC machines, robotics crowd. Some of the leaders in this community have companies with outward-facing blogs that give thoughts, opinions, information, tutorials. A bunch of robotics firms are of that form: Adafruit, SparkFun, MakerBot, Ponoko, Pololu. Then there are a couple geeky magazines I quite enjoy: IEEE Spectrum, Servo, Robot Magazine, Make Magazine, the official magazine of the AUVSI (Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International).
If I have a little time in the evening, I'll curl up with the iPad. A lot of magazines I've fallen out of the habit of reading I'm now picking up again on it. Take BusinessWeek, for example. I had stopped reading them in print. By the time I was reading them at least one of them was two months old. It didn't seem fun anymore. But their iPad edition, a Zinio replica, is so fast and clear and simple. I'm also loving the new Fortune app. And Esquire--I never read it before because I assumed wrongly that it was for stylish men and I am the furthest thing possible from a stylish man. But on Zinio, I've been dipping into that and quite enjoying the writing.
I never got a Kindle device, but I love the Kindle app on the iPad. When I'm buying books from now on, it's going to be 100 percent Kindle app. What surprised me is how much faster I can read on it. Maybe it's my affinity for reading on screens. I'm just zipping through these books. I only read nonfiction, so it's more of a skim experience. Right now I'm really liking the book The Art of Community by Jono Bacon, one of the Ubuntu Community Managers.
Then in my bag, I carry physical magazines for when they make you turn off the iPad when landing. The number one magazine will be New Scientist, a weekly magazine from UK. I let them pile up till I have about 4 of 'em and plow through them as if it were a monthly.
In terms of magazines that come in the house, we get the New Yorker--but I tend not to read it in print. I don't want to commit to reading a New Yorker article until I've heard about it.As a family, we have a weekly routine where we run to the New Yorker cartoons. It's an opportunity to explain grown-up humor to children. We have five children from two to 13. The older ones get it, the younger ones don't. It's kind of hard to explain a New Yorker joke to a two year old.
When you look at the strategy of my media diet, which is to ignore the noise, I think that is subconsciously an effort to avert the ADD, the focus on the shiny superficiality that Nick Carr warns about. At this point, my media diet reflects what actually seems to make my life better. I made a conscious decision to shield myself from the conventional notion of what people should be consuming on a daily basis. It wouldn't allow me to focus on the things I do want to focus on--more long-wave things. Once I identify a long-wave trend, then my appetite is infinite. Whereas what's going on in Washington today, I may not hear about it for months.