The Way I Read Now

Nothing excites me more than getting my paws on something I really really want to read — a new graphic novel, the latest New York Times Magazine, or perhaps the book I’m currently working on (reading, that is). Maybe it’s the english major in me. I am one of those people who finds it hard just to sit down and eat breakfast without reading something, even the side of a cereal box if there’s nothing else.

Also my destination affects this state of excitement considerably. Perhaps it’s this sense of readerly anticipation that makes me look forward to train rides so much (long plane rides less so). Locked in a train car, I know I will be a willing captive to my reading material, like Ulysses roping himself to the mast so he can hear the aching beauty of the sirens without going mad and throwing himself overboard.

My sirens are the multitude of RSS feeds I’m subscribed to, every item an irresistible maiden of interestingness. I am a creature of distraction. (And I know I’m not alone.)

The age we’re in right now isn’t helping much. I check my precious feeds on my iPhone if I’m not on my laptop or sitting in front of my computer at work. My Google Reader Trends are damning:

As you can see, I'm grazing the Reader almost all of my waking hours

Trends from my Google Reader for 8 Dec, 2008 - 6 Jan, 2009

I redrew the graph to highlight a couple of things:

My Google Reader habit throughout the day

My Google Reader habit throughout the day

I threw a gradient in the background to show approximate daylight versus items coming into my RSS feeds.

Josh (i2pi) happened to be in the office and remarked that he hates seeing the (1000+) indicator in his Google Reader (ie, that a feed group has more than 1000 unread items) because he enjoys the sense of accomplishment of processing through a whole “stack” of items, to see it reduce from 1000 down to zero, what I realized later is called “inbox zero” (from Merlin Mann’s really interesting talk originally about managing email clutter).

What I got from this little bit of self-reflection is:

1. I cast a pretty wide net.

I am subscribed to something like 47 RSS feeds, many of which each yield thousands of posts a day (Digg, reddit). If you’re curious, here’s the public page of my “blogosphere” RSS feed. I occassionally will unsubscribe to ones when they begin to feel spammy, but in general, I like to fly at 20,000 feet, scan the headlines, then zoom down when I see something that catches my eye. Or to quote Clay Shirky once again: “there is no such thing as information overload, there’s only filter failure.” That said, my filter could probably use some tweaking.

2. I check my feeds. A lot. Maybe too much.

Just to satisfy my curiosity, I took the “Items Read” from my Google Trends graph and amplified the range to get a better view:

Actual items read

Actual items read

This represents the actual volume of items I bothered to click on and read through. In online advertising-speak, my clickthrough rate on my blogosphere RSS feed is around 10-12%.

If you suppose that, on average, a blog post is around 500 words, and I read 839 items in the past 30 days, that means I’ve read around 419,500 words in a month. If you then suppose that, on average, a novel is around 50,000 words, then I’ve read the equivalent of 8.4 novels this month!

Who says people don’t read anymore? (We just aren’t necessarily reading books all the time…)

Is this healthy?

Is this healthy?

Gotta run. The Reader calls, but out of curiosity, how do you read?

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