Returning to Newsletters

Posted — Dec 14, 2020

Leave social media and subscribe to newsletters

One of the projects I took on this year was decluttering my sources of news. Perhaps Marie Kondo-fying some.

The first step was unsubscribing to hundreds of newsletters that I had signed up for over the years. It wasn’t hard, but tedious and I did it over a week while watching sports. The rationale for this clean up was improving my mental health.

Of course then I signed up for other newsletters. I know, I know but hear me out.

Like many, the content around the combination of the election and COVID-19 drove me nuts (and still does as of writing this post). None of it was productive. Of course, it’s great for social networks and news related sites, emotion drives traffic and engagement. I did not need the constant updates and hot takes from all sides constantly. I don’t need the drama. We all need to get off this hamster wheel.

The solution is obviously curation. There are many types of curation. First, social networks algorithmically deciding what posts I’m likely to click on. Second, news sites ersonalizing what content I see or presenting me with what I should read next. Third, people we follow on social sites posting their own curated links. But all of these are meant to drive emotion which forces me into more “engagement” (for those of us with little self-control).

The first problem is that reacting or engaging for the most part is pointless. The great hope of the Internet was that with all human knowledge available immediately, we would all be smarter and better off. This has happened successfully around the work. Otherwise, it’s hit or miss. The brain is not capable of processing the Internet hose, so it takes shortcuts. It identifies with what we already agree with (confirmation bias), what we see repeatedly, what is novel and ignoring any new information (conservatism bias). We all live in our own digital bubbles. If anything, it is probably harder to change minds even though we have so much information at our fingertips.

Second, there are very few things in life that need immediate responses. Wife going into labor? Sure. Responding to a post of Trump saying something stupid? No. But we can’t help ourselves. Between our need to be social, our addiction to drama and our need to say something because everyone else is saying something, we are all compelled to react. The notification ding fuels a fight or flight response. You either get a serotonin or cortisol hit. Each useless post is not itself that annoying, but it adds up over hours, days, weeks, months, and years, to the point where checking social sites is stressful.

That’s where newsletters come in. They are curated with relevant information. They only contain text and a few images, not megabytes of trackers. Most of them show up in your inbox once a day. They do not require the reader to respond in any shape or form. And if you delete it, you never have to see it again. If you don’t like the newsletter, it disappears with one click of the “unsubscribe” link. These are not emotional interactions, no hard feelings. On the other hand, if you don’t like what a colleague is posting on Facebook, there is a process of determining whether you should hide their posts or unfollow them. Will the colleague be angry? Will he say nasty things behind your back to coworkers? With newsletters, there is no cognitive load. It is an atomic unit that demands nothing of you (well, except clicking on sponsored links). You as the reader are under no obligation to engage. If you set up filters, the newsletters can be put in a different folder and not in your inbox. You can read them whenever.

Your mind will spark joy.