Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Reader's Despair Syndrome

Hello, my name is Avi, and I'm a readaholic.

I've always been something of an obsessive reader. I read my first Dave Barry column on January 1, 2000, as the comedy writer presented his summary of the millennium. I proceeded, throughout the course of my high school career, to read every single archived column available on any of the dozens of Dave Barry fan-sites I found. I think I was using AOL search, so I may have missed a few columns, but I did manage to uncover a few hundred pieces.

I repeated this general approach after reading Bill Simmons for the first time.

I still remember that fateful day--I was a senior in college--when I first discovered Google Reader. This is awesome, I thought. Google will deliver updates from any website I want? Awesome. What started off as four or five subscriptions soon ballooned to a dozen. I unsubscribed during those summers when computer access was limited, but resubscribed as soon as I returned to civilization. I currently sit at 36 subscriptions, and that's after pruning three in the last week. I don't read everything written on each of these sites. But I read everything from two dozen of them and I skim the rest. This, as I understand it, is a mild case.

At least according to Leon Neyfakh's article "Feed Me, I'm Hungry," published in The New York Observer:

Legions of jittery, media-conscious New Yorkers are eating themselves alive signing up for feeds they never end up reading  in hopes of becoming better people—more knowledgeable, more fun to talk to, more in control of their Internet consumption. They subscribe to dozens, sometimes hundreds of news sources, each of them added to the list with the best of intentions, motivated by the knowledge that, if they really wanted to—that is, if they had it in them to be disciplined and vigilantly curious—they could know everything there is to know. And so these poor balls of anxiety walk around with a constant awareness of all the hundreds of unread news stories, essays, reviews, and blog posts waiting for them on computers—all the marvels they're missing on Boing Boing and Kottke, all the Marginal Revolution posts, all the oil spill updates from The New York Times' U.S. news feed.

Call it Reader's Despair Syndrome, a condition that is afflicting New York's young and old with equal viciousness, but which tends to produce the most dramatic symptoms in people in their 20s and 30s, who retain hope that they will one day become more productive and virtuous in their Internet reading habits.

I've been thinking about these issues for a while, but it's always nice to both know that I'm not alone and to have these nebulous concepts articulated clearly. I'm not sure that this form of reading is good. Forget about whether RSS reading is healthy. I'm more concerned about what this does to me as a reader. Do I want to feel obligated to read the blogs that I love? Can I keep up with my reading without it feeling like an assignment in need of completion? 

Now, some of these subscriptions are for my blogging gig, so I don't really see a way to do without them. But I'm really curious about how I should treat my recently added subscriptions to The Paris Review Daily and Cardboard Gods. Would I enjoy these more if I visited these blogs only when I was in the mood to read them? I'm not sure what the answers are to these questions.

Are you a readaholic? How has RSS feeds changed the way you read?

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