Freya Parr on why it’s okay to be out of the loop sometimes…
Until very recently, I believed I was culturally indestructible. I convinced myself that I could subscribe to 25 podcasts, 3 magazines, upwards of 50 e-newsletters, and 6 online newspaper paywalls and all the while remain sane. And that’s not even including the 48 bookmarked items on my web browser, primarily made up of blogs and online publications I felt dutifully bound to check in on every morning. Or the constant flurry of new musical releases from every genre imaginable that I felt compelled to know inside out a matter of hours after they were dropped. With everything at the tip of our fingers (basically, the internet) it seems like we are all expected to be up to date, all the time – no excuses.
Whilst feeding the dog in the morning before I’d even let my eyes decrust from sleep, I would open my emails for the first of a hundred times that day. In they flood. Brands, bloggers, Amazon, “the five cutest pictures of llamas you’ll see all week”. You name it, it’d be in my inbox. Making my sandwich, I would flick open the nearest copy of Vogue on one side of the chopping board, with laptop open on top of the toaster. On the walk to work I would listen simultaneously to new music and read whatever book was top of my list of priorities. If there was a Reading-An-Immensely-Heavy-Hardback-Whilst-You-Walk-At-An-Above-Average-Pace world championships, I’d have three golds and a condo in the Hamptons.
My love of culture consumption had turned into little more than a fully fledged nightmare.
Burnout is a problem we are facing more and more, with more demanding around-the-clock work schedules, a pressure to perform in every aspect of life, and the constant pings of our iPhones. Combine this with the incredible amount of content available to us via the development of new media, which quickly moves from being “available” to being “compulsory”, it’s no wonder anxiety diagnoses are at an all time high.
We are no longer able to even be passive readers and consumers – we must have a well-formed opinion on every subject. The rise of opinion pieces in journalism has now seeped into our everyday interactions. We need to have a stance on everything from Theresa May’s latest speech on Brexit, to the newest John Grisham thriller, to who went out this week on Bake Off. The reality is, having opinions on every soundbite is unrealistic and the pressure to do so is unhealthy.
My buckling bookshelves are symbolic of a broader problem, and don’t even get me started on The New Yorker; the pinnacle of cultural overload. It is physically impossible to get through the entire magazine in a week before the next one lands smugly on your doorstep. It was this publication that finally made me stop and take notice of my incessant need to “complete” everything I started. I was, and still am, unable to leave a book unfinished, even if I despise every word or didn’t even part with cash for it. It is simply a box that needs ticking off. But as for being up to date on every new release and headline? Maybe ignorance really is bliss sometimes.
So, how on earth do we navigate this huge amount of content?
I’m a recovering content addict, thus very much still on the path to rehabilitation. I haven’t accepted my one-year sobriety coin yet, let alone my one-month one. But I have crafted a plan and am slowly but surely implementing my strategy.
First and foremost, our email inboxes. They seem to be a source of anxiety for most people, spending endless hours attempting to get their number of unread emails down to that magic zero. Unsubscribing to emails that don’t ‘spark joy’, in the infamous words of Marie Kondo, has proved entirely beneficial in my recovery from addiction. She used the phrase for tidying up one’s living space, but I think it’s even more relevant in our digital world, which now works in symbiosis with our lived experience. The majority of the content of mailing lists we are on can just as easily be accessed through direct web access. This is a far superior method for those swamped by notifications – an active search to these websites is better than things passively landing in your inbox and then simply being relentlessly added to your job list.
Magazines are my Achilles heel – they always seem to come last on my list of priorities despite me probably spending the most on them. I have cancelled subscriptions to those I just wasn’t getting through, and have changed my reading technique with the remaining lucky few I have elected to keep. Doing a preliminary flick-through, filtering through the content I actually want to read, has enabled me to make an active choice of which elements I want to invest time in. I can go back at a later date and read the additional “stuff”, but it’s not worth getting behind on the last 10 issues of Vogue in order to trawl through a long and dull article about eyeshadow. (please note: facetiousness utilised here – Vogue articles are never long or dull, even when about eyeshadow. This is part of my ongoing dilemma).
Setting aside time for certain activities is crucial – it is overwhelming when you’re digesting one form of content and another is sitting there looking at you. It’s better to categorise your time, allowing for segments of the day that are “undefined”, and therefore must be left alone, to sit with some knitting and do absolutely sweet FA. The time categories I’ve defined are podcasts for walking, books for the train, magazines with breakfast and then creating my own content in the extra hour I put aside in the morning before work spent in a coffee shop.
Like I said, I’m in rehabilitation, I’m far from cold turkey. At the moment, this is the only way I can satisfy my desire to digest the wonderful writing and content that’s out there without letting it take over my life.