Quantifying my consumption

I don’t find myself reading as many books as I used to; however, I find myself consuming a good deal of material online, a lot of it via Medium or the Longreads and Longform recommendations. But there was no way for me to easily quantify, remember, or track what I’d read and what my impressions of those pieces were.

So, as an experiment, I wanted to try and track everything I read online during the month of January (with the exception of social media and Reddit), as well as all the podcasts I listened to. I wanted to be able to concretely look back on exactly what I’d consumed in those media, document them, and potentially also see if the act of tracking changed my behaviours or choices. These were my results.

Method

I kept a spreadsheet. Here’s an example row:

Spreadsheet row for reading

With each piece, I tried to include a summary as well as my thoughts on it (I wanted to internalise something about the piece and had some sort of opinion, rather than just consuming it and moving on). I also made sure to note follow-up keywords or articles, as well as a few key topics for each.

This wasn’t always ideal, as if I read a piece on my iPad or somewhere else, I had to remember to add it, but it seemed to work OK for the most part.

For podcasts, this was fairly similar:

Podcast row

This just had the name, title, length, and a hybrid synopsis/thoughts section as well.

Results

Reading

I read 251,733 words in total across 80 articles, and wrote just under 14,000 words about them in synopses and thoughts. The average piece was 2,861 words long. I’m not sure what this means, but given that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is apparently 257,154 words long, it doesn’t feel like much. But it’s more than Crime and Punishment (211,591), so I’ll take my wins where I can get them. I’m pretty sure that if I had found a way to include Reddit, I could have surpassed War and Peace (587,287) several times over.

Topic-wise, 30 were associated with “sports”, mostly NBA basketball (22). In second place (25) was the ever-so-specific topic of “tech”, with 20 of those also including some sort of “design” (20) and/or “UX” (15). “Startups” (14) was also in the mix.

Towards the end of the month— I wonder why— “politics” (14) came to the forefront. The topic’s first appearance was on January 14 with a piece on Dylann Roof’s death sentence, and started ratcheting up around the time of the Women’s March and continued steadily thereafter, along with the topics of “feminism”, “race”, and “ethics”.

Three longest: The Crimes of Seal Team 6 (14,509 words) and The Case for Reparations (15,607 words) and Can Jason Whitlock Save ESPN’s “Black Grantland” From Himself? (10,925).

Three shortest: Venture capital is going to murder Medium (588), Silicon Valley’s false feminist idol finally makes a peep (844) and There’s No Home for Carmelo (843).

Three favourites:

  1. The Case for Reparations: I’m ashamed to say that I had never previously read this, but I’m so glad I did.
  2. How Jason Whitlock Is Poisoning ESPN’s “Black Grantland”: A thorough and merciless account of The Undefeated’s early days and the failures of its leader, operational and interpersonal.
  3. Bots Won’t Replace Apps: Bots are a red herring; our phones are meta-platforms that aren’t as helpful as we want or need them to be.

Podcasts

I listened to 55 hours, 46 minutes, and 2 seconds’ worth of podcasts in January, across 75 individual episodes. That’s…a lot, I think? The average length of one podcast was 44:36.

The basketball podcast Open Floor and Planet Money were tied for most listened-to (12 each). This number is a little skewed given that Open Floor releases two episodes a week, and Planet Money also releases reruns. Others I listened to a lot of were Awesome Etiquette, Hot Takedown, Homecoming, Reveal, and Yo, Is This Racist?

I also discovered and started a couple of new podcasts at the end of the month: Intercepted, Pod Save America, and Suspect Convictions.

Three favourite episodes:

  • Reveal: Split down the middle: the reaction to the Trump presidency in Jacksonville, FL, where the vote was almost 50–50.
  • Homecoming (all six episodes): a psychological thriller, experimental-fiction podcast that’s hard to sum up without giving anything away.
  • Reply All #86: Man of the People: The story of notorious “goat-gland doctor” John R. Brinkley who, despite being discredited as a doctor and broadcaster, turned to a career in politics.

What’s next?

This was fun! Knowing that I had to write something about a piece or podcast made me really consider if I wanted to devote my time to it. So, I think I consumed less than what I otherwise would have, but did so more consciously and spent more time reflecting on those things. I learned a lot about what I truly wanted to read and about how I value my own time. I’m trying to track this for February too, but:

  1. Aim to keep my synopses and thoughts shorter, because I sometimes found that I would skip reading something if I didn’t want to write about it. I don’t want to do that.
  2. Figure out how to do some more rigorous analysis of the keywords and topics of the different pieces over time.
  3. Think about ways to track more immediately what I read (or start reading but don’t finish) across devices, to prevent me forgetting.

I’d love to see other similar projects, answer any questions, or take suggestions as to how to improve this!

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