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6 Habits for Staying Smart (and Sane) in the Digital Age

6 Habits for Staying Smart (and Sane) in the Digital Age

Last week, Aziz Ansari was interviewed by GQ Style and talked a bit about what’s like to live disconnected. One of his experiences has been that he’s reading more and “digesting” the information he’s taking in. 

Instead of scrolling through titles of articles on social media, I too have tried to discipline myself to read complete articles (like Aziz’s interview) or books, as well as take the time to reflect on what I’ve read afterward. After this election, I thought long and hard about my media habits. I've been swallowing the empty calories of unfounded articles and sensationalized headlines, so my belly and mind is temporarily distracted from the fact that I'm genuinely hungry for real critical thinking and concentrated attention.

The seduction of skimming an article or just reading article titles is still present, but I’ve adopted six habits to try to keep myself honest.

I keep a reading journal. This is the number one way I’ve increased retention, improved critical thinking and stayed honest to only reading articles I intend to finish. When I journal about what I’ve read, I don’t necessarily go through each piece of the text in detail. Instead, I dive deeper into points of interest, look up anything that isn’t connecting and connect what I’ve read to my life or other readings. With books like the “Mind-Gut Connection” or articles like “Surviving Solitary,” my journal will have pages of verbatim excerpts, lingering questions and my own thoughts on the content. For other readings, like the book “State of Wonder,” my insights will fit on a single page and may have little to do with the content of the book. Either way, I find this to be the most significant practice I’ve taken up. It has made me realize how little of what we consume we stay with long enough to produce our own ideas and questions. My brother recommended this initially, and it’s been an incredible practice.

I go to the library. Buying each book you read isn’t great for the environment and can’t give you that feeling of abundance and spontaneity you can get in a library. Audio books, paper copies and digital versions are plentiful and readily available. Once you understand that knowledge is at your fingertips, it’s hard to justify not taking full advantage of these resources. I put myself in the environment to get curious, consume complete thoughts and explore the minds of other –  thus it comes. It’s also a good reminder that some dedicate months or years (not hours) to understanding a subject. At the speed “news” is generated and with the high rate of turnover at major news organizations, beat journalists (covering and becoming experts on a single topic) are harder to come by. While articles by journalists who have devoted hours instead of months can still hold weight and bring value, there is something to be said about the dedication it takes to write a book. While authors often have definite prejudices and opinions, you get to read the full justification for that train of thought. 

I’m attempting to keep to my GoodReads book goal. Keeping a book goal encourages me to put down the social media and pick up a book instead. I find motivation in tracking my progress and thinking about all that I’ve learned from what I’ve read, fiction or nonfiction. 

I am reading mainly in analog. There are probably studies out there somewhere, but I’ve certainly found it true that I concentrate much better on the information when I read it off screen or on a device that's not connected. My recall of what I've read in paper books and in the paper New Yorker Magazine seems to be much, much better than anything I've read digitally.

I follow my representatives on Facebook and see their posts first + get news alerts from my local paper. The political arena has become a circus, most can agree on that (whether they appreciate or dispose of the acts). By following them and getting their posts first in my feed, it gives me an idea of what’s happening in Colorado's political arena without mindless scrolling. The Denver Post has great news alerts one to three times a day. The alerts help me stay up to date on local and national news with an angle of how it affects Colorado. When something is going on that I can sign a petition for, read about more thoroughly or act on otherwise, it's presented to me. 

As soon as I realize I am skimming Facebook for articles, I shut it down. As a marketer, I know that Facebook’s architecture is optimal for link posts. Which means that I’ve seen how articles can outperform other posts thanks to the algorithm. If a publisher or company put enough money behind a post and it fits into my engagement behaviors, then it will show in my feed regardless of the article’s quality. If I’m looking for articles to read, I look to my intelligent and learned group of friends to provide suggestions. However, in those cases, I click on the article with the intention to read it thoroughly.

Cheers to digesting the information and staying focused on the readings we consume!

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