The Zero Feeds Experiment

Brain Atrophy

I think I know why our brains hurt. Instead of reading, we’re scanning thousands of text snippets. Headline after headline, tweet after tweet. You and I over-process; the brain-filter is clogged. It’s time to stop feeding on all the feeds, not just social media.


Aggregators

I use three services that collect or curate articles on my favorite interests: WordPress Reader, Feedly, and Google Discover.

WordPress Reader

I’ve considered abandoning the WordPress Reader to force myself into the habit of actually visiting people’s blogs.

The Reader is simple, convenient, and great for consistency. But it makes everyone’s blogs look the same. The Reader lacks a blogger’s personal touch of expression via their theme.

I want to see someone’s blog not stripped of its unique design. Aggregators supply lots of content, but they reduce blog posts to nondescript data-points. 

Feedly

Besides the WP Reader, I use Feedly daily. The name itself is about feeding on feeds!

What’s nice about Feedly is it’s algorithm-free. You can see every single article from every single blog site you follow – in chronological order!

While this means you’ll never miss a thing, the downside is you must track and absorb everything yourself. So I often reevaluate the sites I follow. Some sites are so prolific, it’s like they’re spamming the feed. I sometimes pare them down.

Google Feed

This is content curation at its best. Originally called the Google Feed, the Verge describes the initial purpose:

“Google is hoping you’ll begin opening its app the way you do Facebook or Twitter, checking it reflexively throughout the day for quick hits of news and information.”

Sounds like addiction to me.

Now called Google Discover (yet still labeled “Google feed” in Android settings), this will be a tough one to drop!

On my Android phone, it’s a quick thumb-swipe to the left of the home-screen. It presents an always updated list of news and articles that you’re interested in.

About the signal-to-noise ratio, it’s easily the best feed by far, surfacing a ton of relevant stuff. Better still, I can easily optimize the algorithm settings without leaving the feed. I help curate the content!

I truly discover a lot of articles I’m passionate about in this feed and enjoy it more than Feedly. Leaving this one behind will test me.


The Need To Feed

We are so accustomed to social feeds – and the mindless constant scrolling – that our brains find it hard to think outside that feed box.

Whether social media streams or RSS readers, the convenience of aggregated content brings efficiency. You consume content at speed and at scale – like your brain is a multi-core computer!

But this has problems.

I know from experience that my eyes fluttering over hundreds of headlines and titles also brings fatigue. It’s mind-numbing.

There’s often a feeling of low-grade background anxiety induced by web feeds. I’m sure you’ve felt it too. I sometimes experience a nervous angst, needing to read everything. It makes my brain feel scrambled sometimes. Overwhelmed. All that to hopefully find rare diamonds of information.

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Fasting From Feeds

So as part of an experiment, I’ve decided to try living without any feeds!

This shouldn’t be too hard since I’ve been practicing #socialmediadistancing for a few weeks now – and I’m enjoying the calmer and simpler life. I deleted Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp from my phone, plus their bookmarked icons from my browser’s toolbar. My accounts are intact but inactive. It’s a 30-day trial.

Starting July 1st, I will delete the Feedly app from my phone. I will avoid the Reader tab in the WordPress mobile app. And I’ll turn off the Google feed on my Android phone.

Instead, I will manually click to websites or blogs like a net-surfing neanderthal from the 1990’s!

One challenge I foresee here, beyond overcoming the reflex to check feeds, is being forced to slow down. Clicking through several websites will take more time and be tedious. It’s less efficient. But as I’ve written recently, slowing down like this is usually beneficial.

Another drawback to this will be ads. My feeds don’t show ads. But the websites or blogs I like to visit are ad-supported, not subscription based. So I must face obtrusive and distracting ads. I’ll look for ways to mitigate deleterious pop-ups.

The point of this experiment is to see how my brain is affected by starvation of aggregated content. Can my thinking improve if it’s not inundated with hundreds of lines of disparate texts to process? My guess is that the slower pace will cause my mind to relax into deeper, stronger thinking.

After this 30-day experiment runs the month of July, I may post my thoughts about any results.


What do you think? Reply below with your comment. Contact or Email me at the buttons above. Thanks for reading!

16 thoughts on “The Zero Feeds Experiment

  1. This reads just like an example out of Deep Work by Cal Newport. If you haven’t read it I would highly recommend it. It’s one of the best reads on this stuff. There are actual physiological changes (some permanent) that happen when we fragment our attention. We lose the ability to deeply think, focus, and concentrate. I’m almost certain you’ll see a significant, noticeable, and positive difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Brad!
      I haven’t read Deep Work; it’s on my to-read list though. I have read Digital Minimalism, which has similar stuff on this.

      Having now been 2 weeks distant from social media and mainstream news reduced, I don’t feel all the negativity from it. I immediately noticed how much calmer my phone felt.
      That may sound strange, but my phone itself felt calmer. When I looked at it minus social apps, there was far less to tap on. I felt nothing screaming for my attention. I didn’t have to check apps. Checking the gmail app is the closest thing to it, but that naver feels urgent. I have zero notifications except for text messages really. I check what little there when I decide to – like I’m an autonomous agent! So my phone rules me a little less. It’s more like a handy tool I take out and use as needed. It demands less of my attention and commands less of my time.
      I’m reading more books and am focused more on writing and blogging.
      It may take time to rewire my brain though…
      Thanks for leaving a comment 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, mine is more of a tool, too. My phone is actually pretty boring. It stays in my vehicle most of the time and if I’m with my family I mostly leave it home when we are out somewhere.

        When I look around so many people are tethered and controlled by their phones. Like at the gym they go to the storage area for their belongings in between each set and check their phones which leads me to believe that it is a subtle form of loss of control. We are letting a machine dictate what is important, filter our values, and take over our attentions. Not to mention put a wall up right in front of the person trying to speak to us in person.

        I can’t recommend Deep Work enough. No fluff, all useful.

        By the way, I love the new site design!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Glad you like the new site design! I still have more tweaking to do…

          So, sounds like I’m still more connected to my phone than you. But I practice phone distancing during certain social settings. Yet I’m less tethered now thanks to just deleting the social apps. And that’s helped me avoid social media on my laptop too.

          I stand by my 3 part social media series. I just don’t see a net benefit of it to society. We can do and be better.

          I’m staying off social media for the rest of 2020 b/c of POTUS election season. My accounts are available if/when there’s good reason to use them…

          Liked by 1 person

  2. For reasons we discussed on another of your posts, I only use the WP Reader to catch up on posts from bloggers who publish more than once a day. When I did use the reader, it became somewhat overwhelming for me because I forever found myself trying to get to the top of the reader. I compared it to a hamster running on one those wheels – going fast, but never getting anywhere.

    I’ve heard about Feedly, but never tried it out? Is it a free tool?

    I like to visit the actual blog if the heading or first few lines of a blog post interests me enough to click the ‘read more’ button. That doesn’t happen on your posts because the whole post is displayed in the email notification, so I don’t need to visit your blog to read the post. I only need to visit if I want to leave a comment and press ‘like.’

    Is there any reason why you display the whole blog post in the email notifications, Jason? In doing so, it means fewer visitors to your blog. You may not mind, but I thought I’d ask the question.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Feedly is free but also offers a paid level for extra features. I have the free tier.

      I’ve pondered the two, and my preference now is to let my entire post be in email (and RSS). While I want to drive people and views to my actual blog, I figure it’s better for the person reading/following to see my whole post in email. They can read there as desired or click to my blog. They have options.

      I’m not sure the difference between “Following” a WP blog and “Subscribing” by email. I think only WP account holders can follow my blog. If they do, they get emails of my posts. And non-WP account holders cannot follow, but they can subscribe by email and get emails of my posts. Not sure which is better. Seems a bit redundant. But I like that anyone can get my posts via email.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. When you follow a blog (as a WordPress account holder), any new posts from that blogger show up on your WordPress Reader (only posts from those you follow show up on your reader). WordPress account holders also have the option to receive email notifications from WordPress whenever the blog they’ve followed publishes a new post. This can be instantly, daily, weekly or monthly. You can also turn off email notifications if you want to. So, not only do posts show up on the reader, but you also get email notifications if you choose to do so.

    Non-WordPress account holders can only subscribe via email, as they have no access to the WordPress Reader. I guess they could use something like Feedly, though, but as I’ve never used it, I don’t know if they have to subscribe to a blog to get posts to show up on Feedly?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This sounds like a wonderful experiment. I’ve been having “feed fatigue” lately, especially on Instagram where I follow 200+ people, but also with blogs. And the truth is, though I find all of those people interesting, there’s really just a handful whom I try to keep up with on a daily basis. I’m not sure quite how to solve this for IG, but with blogs, old-school bookmarks might actually be better than feeds… I look forward to hearing about your progress!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Freed from feeds should make one freed from feed fatigue. At least it sounds good. 😉

      So far so good for my experiment…

      You might search for “Attention Economy” articles to learn how IG and other social sites are designed to keep you glued to them. An “Active User” is focused on the feed.

      Prioritize things. Value quality over quantity.

      Scaling back from social and feeds means being slow and deliberate. A calm focus sets in.

      Thanks for visiting and commenting! Take care 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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