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Do You Read Too Many Blogs?

Do You Read Too Many Blogs?
Are You Reading Too many Blogs?

    Ades of AdesBlog.com has a theory: that top bloggers don’t read other people’s blogs. To test his theory, he asked several big-name bloggers — Michael Arrington, Darren Rowse, Jeremy Schoemaker, and Yaro Starak — about their blog-reading habits. Except for Darren Rowse, they all said they read few or no blogs; Rowse said he subscribes to 700 but only skims the whole list occasionally — there are about 50 he looks at on a daily basis.

    This is far from an exhaustive sample, but it’s got me wondering: how do you know when you’re reading too many blogs? I can’t imagine dropping blog-reading entirely — I get too much useful information, both for my professional life and my personal life, to consider blog-reading a total waste of time. On the other hand, though, do I read too many (I’m subscribed to 295)? Should I be more selective than I already am — or should I have a better system for processing the ones I do read?

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    Pros and Cons of Blog Reading

    There are lots of good reasons to read blogs, including:

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    • Inspiration: Reading blogs gives me ideas that I can use or build on in my own work.
    • Keeping up with current events: Since local news is useless, and cable news only slightly less so, blogs are often where I learn about the most important news of the day. I also learn of important news that the regular news outlets aren’t even covering (or are covering badly).
    • The pulse of the times: As someone with a professional interest (as both an anthropologist and a writer) in how people and society act, reading blogs offers me insight into the way people see and react to the world around them.
    • Things I wouldn’t think to ask: While I am an adept Googler when I need answers to some pressing question, a lot of time I’ve learned things from blogs I wouldn’t have Googled because I didn’t even know I didn’t know them. For example, I learned this year that I can deduct mileage between my home office and my classrooms, since I don’t have an office on campus.
    • Entertainment: I find reading a strong writer’s thoughts on the topic of their expertise a far more entertaining prospect than watching 22 minutes of sit-com pablum (with 8 more minutes of commercial nonsense).

    Are those pros balanced by the cons, though? The negative side of blog-reading includes:

    • The echo-chamber effect: I read blogs that, for one reason or another, I like, which means it’s possible that I’m hearing viewpoints and opinions that resonate well with my own to the exclusion of others. To be honest, I don’t think this is a big problem, since blogs aren’t the only medium through which I engage with the world, but it’s something to think about.
    • Time consumption: I’m not really sure how much time I spend reading blogs every day. An hour in the morning and again in the evening seems about right for most days. I that time that could be better used for other things?
    • A sense of urgency: I sometimes feel pressure to go through more posts, because even a day or two of scant reading leaves my Google Reader inbox at “1000+”. A thousand of anything seems like a lot of work to do — am I setting myself up with a great deal of unnecessary stress and anxiety?
    • The other echo-chamber effect: There’s only so much news in any niche, so when something noteworthy happens, chances are several sites will end up running the same story with only slight differences. I can either spend time reading each story to make sure I don’t miss any subtle detail, or skip them (which also takes time, and may mean I miss some key detail).
    • Headlines that don’t pay off: You can process a lot of RSS feeds in very little time if you just look at headlines and delete anything that doesn’t look promising. There are two problems with this:
    • Lots of bloggers are better headline writers than they are post writers. They know “10 Ways to Be Sexier” will attract readers, but only know 3 good ways to be sexier.
    • Lots of other bloggers are better post writers than headline writers. Their incredibly insightful posts are given useless headlines like “I hadn’t thought of it like that…” and “Another Story I Like”.

      Developing a Blog Reading System

      One way to deal with some of these blog-reading downsides would be to change how I organize my RSS feeds. Currently, they’re organized by topic — I have a set of feeds for “productivity”, another on “writing”, a third on “education”, and so on.There are a few topics I try to read at least partially every day, and some I only read when I get around to it. But maybe I should adopt a system I’ve seen some others use, categorizing by priority?

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      Like this:

      1. Daily reads: Top authorities in their niche; the top 10 or so blogs worth looking at every day.
      2. Weekly reads: Strong blogs that post less frequently or post stuff I really want to spend some time on, so I could review them on my day off and not worry about rushing through them.
      3. Occasional reads: Blogs on topics I enjoy reading about but which aren’t essential to my day-to-day life. To read whenever I have free time.
      4. Probation: For new subscribes while I figure out a) whether I really want to give them my attention, and b) how high a priority I should make them.

      I’m not especially thrilled at the prospect of re-tagging all my feeds in Google Reader, but maybe that’s what it takes to make sure that I’m not wasting my time on unessential reading when I could be doing something more important.

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      What about you?

      I’d be interested in knowing how other people handle their blog-reading. Are Arrington and the others mentioned above anomalies? Do you read a lot of blogs? How many? Do you have a system for limiting the time you spend reading blogs? Do you not have one and feel like you do? And while we’re on the topic, what blogs do you consider “essential reading”?

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      Last Updated on July 17, 2019

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      What happens in our heads when we set goals?

      Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

      Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

      According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

      Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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      Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

      Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

      The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

      Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

      So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

      Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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      One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

      Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

      Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

      The Neurology of Ownership

      Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

      In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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      But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

      This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

      Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

      The Upshot for Goal-Setters

      So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

      On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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      It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

      On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

      But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

      More About Goals Setting

      Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

      Reference

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