Dustin Senos' recent post at the site Medium (Social Currency: Our Online Personas Inhabit Worlds of False Value) argues that we are cursed with too many opportunities to encourage valueless content through the costless use of friending, liking, up voting, and pinning (to name a few). This socially created noise masks the ability to easily identify truly epic content by allowing these contributions to be equated with the mediocre if, as is often the case, we spend that imaginary rating currency with the abandon of sailors on shore leave. Senos’ point is that highly recommended content is often not worth the stars it has associated with it, but we often only discover that after we have taken the time to consume it.
While not providing a solution to Senos’ particular quandary, there is another method that can help us identify and avoid content rife with noise. To some, this method may seem extreme and, in times of true crisis, perhaps even dangerous. But, after experimenting with it for months, I have found that it has reduced my stress, increased my task-centered knowledge, and just generally increased by daily productivity.
How Does This Method Work?
First, take a few minutes and write down as many words as you can that refer to “hot-button" issues, especially those related to media fixations that do not directly impact your daily life. These words are easy to identify by their propensity to lead to arguments, debate, and downright silly and ugly discussions among friends, family, and co-workers. As an example, my personal list always includes (and probably yours should, too) the terms Taliban, terrorist, Obamacare, conspiracy, libertarian, and Kardashian (I am picking on the Kardashian’s here, as the list of celebrity names that could be included is nearly endless).
Next, avoid consuming any written media, either in print or electronically, that contains these words in the title or lead paragraph (yes, I understand the irony in having these words in this article). If you are familiar with website blocking software or regex filtering, you can easily eliminate any content containing these words from your Twitter, email, and website feeds. You can also successfully avoid the vast majority of podcasts and video products that use the terms in their titles and descriptions, although your success will partly depend on your technical abilities. If you are not familiar with those technical tools, then just keep a post-it note on your screen to remind you not to look at content with those words. Be diligent, but merciful. If you accidently find yourself reading something containing a “hot-button” word, just stop. No harm, no foul.
The Fascinating Benefits
You will be amazed at how much noisy content you can avoid if you take this approach to filtering your information sources. I recently conducted a test using the post-it version and the exact words above. In all, I reduced the time I spent consuming media in a day by 48 percent while noticeably increasing my ability to focus on things that actually impact my daily life. I addition, both my stress level and general intelligence substantially improved, although friends might point out that it is easy to get those kinds of changes given where they started.
Although this approach is not as effective as just eliminating the consumption of online content all together (an approach my brother has used to great benefit), it is far more practical for those who depend on the Internet for our jobs and hobbies. There is much great content in cyberspace. Unfortunately, it tends to be separated by yawning voids of noise. Avoiding the noise is key to increasing your productivity, happiness, and usefulness to those around you.
Now it is your turn. Use the comment section to suggest words or phrases (keep it G-rated) that, if used in a filtering system, would go a long way towards increasing the signal-to-noise ratio that we experience each day. While we may differ on what is important (signal) and what is fluff (noise), building a list will help all of us think about the usefulness of the media we consume each day.