How do people deal with the torrent of information pouring down on us all? What sources can't they live without? We regularly reach out to prominent figures in media, entertainment, politics, the arts, and the literary world to hear their answers. This is drawn from an email exchange with Kate Carraway, writer of “Lil Thinks” and “Girl News” columns for Vice; “the Jungle” for The Globe and Mail; “1+1” for the National Post; and the “Thirtyish” column for The Grid.
If I’m behaving, I sleep with my phone in another room, and wake up at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. and write straight until 9:00 or whenever I start getting emails. If I’m not behaving, or have been up particularly late, I wake up panicking at 8:00 or 9:00 and immediately get my iPhone, pre-coffee, and check my three primary email accounts, texts, and Twitter mentions and direct messages.
If I’m not on deadline and haven’t gone straight to my computer to work, I often read outside for an hour or two (always new hardcover nonfiction in the morning, I guess to maintain a sense of productivity). I don't consider this an indulgence, really, because it all contributes somehow, sometime. And it’s a gentler way into a workday than a barrage of press releases or whatever. I read pretty much whatever gets sent to me that relates to my topics, or whatever I need for interview or story prep. When I start working, at home or at the office, I open Gmail and the “To Do” page of my Excel workbook. Those stay open all day, unless I’m on a particularly serious deadline.
Around 9:00 or 10:00 I’ll do a 10- or 15-minute cruise around. It starts with Twitter @s and DMs and “Musts,” and then scanning my feed for anything really interesting or new. This is more for my personal interest than for work; fortunately, since I’m a columnist and feature writer, I rarely have to react immediately to something that’s breaking. That’s by design: I used to write a twice-daily column about Internet culture, and while it was really fun, I hated having to write every day about whatever was going on. I don’t believe in that maxim, that writers should write every day. Writing every day turns me to ash. I have five columns; working on my own (emotional; physical; circadian) schedule is a priority. I do read every day.
After Twitter I check Facebook, and write bossy comments on my friends’ pages, and hopefully remember to look at the birthdays. Facebook is such a drag. Then I check my Google Reader, where I track all of the blogs I like. If I have a new column or feature out that day, I’ll usually post it in the morning, to Twitter, Tumblr and my Facebook fan page. Then I start writing, or return to it, or take care of some business stuff.
I’m very careful with the amount of time I spend online, and the way I spend that time. Probably because I’m freelance, and because I have several very different kinds of work to do, and because I have no internal control mechanism, I’ve recently become militant about my schedule. (Without these rules in place I’d spend all day lying on the floor, listlessly eating candy and Internetting.) Also, I have to manage my mood and energy pretty carefully, which means that I can’t be reading anything about adorable zoo animals or grisly murders at three in the afternoon. On real deadline days I use Freedom to block the Internet, and keep my iPhone around for any urgent emails. I get up a lot. I go outside a lot. I never used to, but, you know: “self-care.” Also, I don’t read the comments. Literally every time a Vice column is posted, I get emails and tweets like “Don’t worry about the haters” or similar (and I don’t), but apparently people who read the columns aren’t taking their own good advice. Internet comments are the worst thing any writer could read.
When I’m making notes, and using the Internet for research and information, I follow links that might be useful for other stories, but I won’t read them in the moment: instead, I save a particular site or page on Pocket. Pocket is cool. If someone emails me an interesting-looking link, I “star” it in Gmail for later. I favorite tweets that link to stuff I want to read later. The links that I save to read are often from the same handful of sites: The New York Times; Slate; Salon; The Atlantic, especially Ta-Nehisi Coates; the Guardian; the BBC; The Wall Street Journal; Racialicious; New York and its sub-sites; Vice.com, The Awl; The Hairpin; Jezebel; Grantland, especially stuff by Rembert Browne and Molly Lambert; Videogum. I read The Harvard Crimson, the Yale Daily News, and the The Brown Daily Herald online sometimes. I go in little waves of what I find interesting or useful. The only constant is that I save about a million links throughout the day or week and then hit them all at once.
My RSS is for the sites, blogs, and Tumblrs that I want to read in full, usually fashion stuff. I love Into the Gloss, a fashiony beauty blog, which is perfectly done. The Man Repeller is cute. I read most of the Opening Ceremony blog, and I check out almost every post on The Coveteur. Blog-wise, I love everything posted by Cord Jefferson, Alex Balk, Rich Juzwiak, Jay Smooth, Foster Kamer, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, Natasha Vargas-Cooper, Sean Fennessey, Kara Jesella, Max Silvestri, Aaron Leaf.
I don’t read any sites that have asked me to write for them and then told me they “can’t” pay me. I don’t usually read Pitchfork or any other nerd-specific sites unless I have a really promising link. I was a music writer when I started, and am still shivering from the experience. I don’t read any salty, gossipy stuff online, unless it’s about someone I know. It’s a short ride from a quick look at a meme or a Perez post to the darkest Internet-ether.
Despite all this, I spend a lot, a lot of time on YouTube. I don’t consider music or music videos something I have to “save” because I use them in the moment, for a push or a break. I usually watch the same videos over and over until I’m sort of drugged by them. The most recent of these was/is Christina Aguilera’s “Your Body.” If I’m at home/alone I sing along, poorly.
Nothing is more meaningful to me than a print product. Lately, I’ve been saving and stacking up everything and then hitting it all at once, once a week, the same way I do my Internet-reading. I subscribe to the Globe and Mail (the Canadian paper of record), the National Post, and The Times. I usually spend Sunday mornings totally blissed out, with a coffee, inside a mountain of newspapers and their magazines.
I consistently buy The New Yorker; The Atlantic; Harper’s; Vanity Fair; Interview; British and American Vogue; the British, American and Canadian editions of ELLE; Flare; Fashion; Glamour; New York Magazine, Los Angeles magazine, and Toronto Life; BookForum. Vice sends me a couple copies of the issue every month; I always pick up copies of The Grid when I’m in the office. I just started buying Variety and The Hollywood Reporter because I’m almost done with a screenplay and starting to panic about knowing things. I like those heavy, weird British fashion magazines. I read Women’s Wear Daily sometimes but for, like, no reason at all. I always pick up a Village Voice or L.A. Weekly or the local weekly when I’m traveling. Once a year I buy a cooking or decorating magazine and then remember I am way too young and cool to be doing that. Juuust kidding. No I’m not. I feel like becoming a writer economically justified the many magazines that I bought in my teens and twenties. I still have every Sassy, every Jane, every VICE.
I only look at Tumblr once a week but will spend several hours on it when I do. I love Instagram. I use it just whenever I’m compelled, like when I was running and saw a bench that had “A REAL HUMUN BEING” [sic] scrawled on it. I used to Gchat a lot, and still do occasionally when it’s more efficient than email, but I’m often invisible. Ever since I got into Emojis I prefer to text my friends, anyway. I’ll do a stream of Emojis to tell a little story; everybody loves it, especially people without iPhones.
I only listen to comedy podcasts, it turns out, and the only one I listen to in full is How Was Your Week. Julie Klausner is so smart and funny. I like The Champs, which one of my best friends initially got me onto because they don’t interview any white people. I listen to most episodes of WTF with Marc Maron. I am currently dying for Gabe Liedman’s new comedy album Hiyeeee!! His web series with Jenny Slate, Bestie x Bestie, is so good.
Never in my life have I watched as much TV as I’ve watched in the last 12 months (I got cable). Charlie Rose is not so much “my favorite show” as “my favorite anything.” I watched The Newsroom because I felt like I was somehow contractually obligated to. Maybe that’s a lie; Aaron Sorkin was and remains important to me. But, that show is bad. I watched every episode of Girls at least three times; I re-watch Louie and The League. Real Housewives of Beverly Hills has become a genuine area of emotional and intellectual investment and interest for me. I secretly watch Grey’s Anatomy and Suits; I love any show about working hard. The West Wing was my heart. I watch the Sunday political shows fairly often.
Tweeting throughout the day offers a quick sort-of tension release and sense of sociability, and it has certainly been important for me in terms of visibility and brand-building, but I don’t really scroll through it unless it’s my designated time to scroll through it. Usually that designated time is at the end of the day, around six, when I never feel like writing and email is quiet and I can go back and see every single tweet. In the late afternoon/evening, as soon as I start to feel squiggly, usually between four and 11, I get offline and go out.
Ideally I leave my phone in my bag in another room when I’m in for the night, unless I’m alone and want to call someone. I don’t believe in TVs or computers in bedrooms, so late-night Internet is almost never an issue. I read fiction at night, as much as possible. I just read An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin because one of my best friends told me to, and I do what they say.