When you mention time and attention theft, most creators think of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (which I call Facebook II). They usually don’t think about Youtube or podcasts, which have the same issues: the ad model and all its abuses to the listener, and the lack of quality in favor of burn-out-inducing “consistency” and quantity (something that is also tied to the ad model).
I didn’t give too much thought about it until recently. I quit Facebook and Instagram years ago. I became the lightest of Twitter users.
I hadn’t cared that podcasts were robbing just as much of my attention. Then, while wondering why I was using two apps to manage them (each does something better than the other and both block ads in their own way), I saw this post from Ben Brooks:
“Isn’t the entire point of a podcast that the entire podcast is relevant and entertaining? Why are people paying to get these “features” instead of demanding better content?”
Then this from Matt Thomas:
“The podcast is free but your time isn’t.”
Both were painful to read, because they were totally true. We’re just numb to the Buzzfeed-ification of podcasts, even (especially?) in outlets like NPR.
Then came popular YouTuber CGPGrey (one my favorite podcasters) and his Project Cyclops. In short, this is a well-known, well-liked podcaster who is now advising people to stop listening to podcasts. He has promised to stop listening himself as well — he will only create.
He followed up his announcement of Project Cyclops with an episode questioning why we’re letting attention seekers (arguably the last people we should encourage) have access to so much of our time. He refers to them as the kids from Drama club (nice people, but with a dire need for our constant attention).
To cap it off, Grey posted this excellent video to begin Project Cyclops. If you’d like to dive into the science and philosophy behind such projects, check out Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows and Cal Newport’s Deep Work.
Funny that I haven’t heard much about this on the podcasts I listen to...or on Twitter. These people usually adore Grey and his projects. It’s almost as if they’re chained to a business model that won’t them be open and honest.
I admit it, I am a completionist. I read every tweet in my Twitter feed. I read every blog headline in my RSS reader. I listen to every episode of my favorite podcasts and at least read through the notes of the podcasts I half-like in case there's something really cool to hear.
All of this robs me of time and attention.
Sure, some of it adds value. But is the cost worth it?
Some alternatives to consider, if you have the same disease:
- Twitter still allows you to arrange your feed in lists (for now). I created a list of my "must reads" which means even after hours (or a full day) of neglect, I can catch up with my absolute favorite Twitterers in just a dozen tweets or so, instead of hundreds, cutting my reading time from 15-30 minutes down to 1 minute.
- I can eliminate RSS from my blog reading all together. Dave Pell did this and his profession is reading news (he publishes the ultra-popular newsletter NextDraft). Dave now reads his news going site-to-site, taking in design as a part of the character and content of the site. He doesn't have an inbox of headlines waiting for him and he experiences the good and bad of web just like his readers would after clicking a link in his newsletter. This is what everyone used to do. Remember the joy of just "surfing the web?" Better to experience joy than another inbox.
- With podcasts, I have started eliminating the ones I like (and don't LOVE). If I run out of podcasts to listen to, I can fish through those feeds for the gems. But for now, there must be cuts. Some love Huffduffer for the ability to do away with subscribing entirely and just feed individual podcasts to your favorite app. Others like the app Castro, which allows you to triage your episodes and download only the best of the best.
- Let go. You don't need to complete any of this.
That last one is the most honest, clear and simple lesson. That's why it's the hardest to implement and least likely to occur.
Andrew Hellmich was kind enough to invite me on another of his podcasts, Photo Xperiment (Episode 12: You Are Not Just a Photographer, You Need to Be a Publisher). We went beyond photography in this one, covering publishing and creativity. This is a good one.
I don't do a lot of podcasts anymore, but I'll always make time for Andrew's. He's a pro and truly enthusiastic about what he covers. I can't tell you how many interviewers just read off a list of questions.
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The last question stuck in my head and I don't think I answered it clearly enough. The question was about why a photographer should take on the huge project of blogging daily.
I relayed the benefits of daily blogging to the reader and to the writer's own practice of becoming better at telling stories, but a bigger question kept echoing in my head that I never spoke: What do you have to lose?
None of us are rich and famous enough to have the entire world hanging on our words. Why be precious with them? Why not experiment and see what works for you? There's infinite upside and no downside, except for the work involved in creating something from nothing. But isn't that exactly what we want from our work and from our lives? So, there's no real downside.
Whether anyone cares about what I posted, I believe this is making me a better writer. Nothing but good has come from this.
Blog daily and see if it helps you become a better storyteller and a more observant person. If not, so what?
This world provides the opportunity for endless experimentation for those curious enough to try.
You don’t need a certain number of followers, a “passive income,” a “monetization strategy” or “1000 true fans” to justify sharing your work.
All you need is 1.
1 person liked my writing enough to hire me at my current company (that’s 15 years of salary and benefits so far).
1 person liked my dating profile (which is most definitely a writing and photography project) enough to eventually marry me and start a family.
1 person read my most recent book more than a year ago and decided to publish it to their customer list of 100,000+ people.
1 fan could be your next business partnership, employer or spouse.
1 fan justifies your next book, blog and podcast.
1 fan can give your work all the meaning it ever needs.
I appeared on a pretty unlikely podcast. I'm either becoming too comfortable on podcasts or becoming tired of them. I can't decide yet.