Opening the Informational Aperture

Photo by Nayu Kim

On the importance of breaking our informational filters and letting a new world into our highly curated lives.

My standard operating procedure is to severely restrict the amount of information I let into my life. I don’t have a TV, I follow only a handful of people on Twitter, I’ve unfollowed 99% of my Facebook friends (sorry!), I subscribe to less than 15 RSS feeds, and only listen to about 10 regularly updated podcasts. I’m obsessive about making sure that the stream of stuff entering my life is of the highest quality it can possibly be.

However, every once in awhile I start to wonder if I’m missing something important. It’s not “fear of missing out,” really — more of a sense that there may be some sources that have emerged since the last time I looked around that could be bringing a lot of value to my life. I get the itch to just expand my intake because I want to be exposed to concepts and ideas that don’t normally make it through my filter. I’ve noticed that I seem to cycle back and forth between long periods of extreme curation and short bursts of extreme information promiscuity. I figured this time around I’d try to put some words to the experience to see if it helps anyone else as I work through it for myself.

Before I dive into the details of how I’m doing this, I thought I’d share a few more thoughts about why I think it’s a good idea to approach my relationship with information like this. Information restriction has worked great for me because it’s exhausting to be bombarded with information all day long. Without any sort of curation it’s difficult to pickup anything truly useful. On the flip side, I also think it’s important to periodically challenge myself to look at the world around me in a different way. Living inside a bubble of my own careful creation keeps me very insulated from the rest of the world. Additionally, I can only operate with a very restricted informational horizon when I trust that I’m doing a good job letting the most useful and highest quality stuff through the filter. When I haven’t looked around and tried out new sources of information in awhile I lose that confidence in my current setup. The only cure is to actively try finding new sources of information and paring away the ones that no longer bring me enough value.

With that out of the way, here’s the nuts and bolts of how I’m approaching the project of expanding my filter:

1. I started following a ton more people on Twitter.
2. I subscribed to a ton of new RSS feeds.
3. I subscribed to a ton of new podcasts.
4. I’ve started using Apple News. I’m making sure I consistently “Like” the stories that appeal to me and am even trying to do a better job sharing on Twitter the articles that are actually relevant to me and my interests. I’ve dug around the Explore and Search functionality of the service and have added anything remotely related to technology, psychology, business, etc. I want to see how the Apple News algorithm adjusts to my behavior over time.
5. I re-followed everybody I un-followed on Facebook. I’m trying to force myself to use Facebook more (weird, right?). Similar to Apple News, I want to see how Facebook’s algorithm adjusts to me over time as I actively try to use it.
6. I downloaded Snapchat and am trying to use it more. I feel old. I think we can be friends there? I don’t really know. I think my username is samspurlin.
7. I downloaded the Medium app and am trying to use it more. I’m curious to see what it’s like to use this service and like with Apple News and Facebook, I’m curious to see how the experience changes as I interact with it more.
8. I followed a ton of new people on Instagram.

The plan is to leave the floodgates open for at least a couple weeks. My job is to take notice of the stuff that keeps catching my interest and begin winnowing away the stuff that doesn’t provide enough value. After this natural winnowing process I imagine I will have a final session where I make some tough decisions to get myself back down to the hyper-curated and minimal information stream I’m most comfortable operating under. I’ll function that way for the next nine months or so and then I’ll shift back into another period of expansion.

And so it goes. And so it goes.