A struggle with the internet

I like to think of myself as pretty tech-savvy. I’m the kind of person people will ask if they can’t get their phone to do something, or they want to understand what unique users means and what page impressions means.

I’m in no way a digital expert. I can’t code. I don’t really know html. I know enough to ask annoying questions to web designers, but not to actually do anything with it.

But yeah, I like technology. I use social media, lots of different types of social media. I love that last.fm can track my listening and make recommendations, that I can logon to Google Chrome at work, and the bookmarks and search history with mirror across my iPad and my phone and my home computer. I think the digital world is pretty smart, and full of possibilities and opportunities. But I have a personal struggle with it. It’s about time, capacity and the infinite possibilities the internet creates.

I have a near-constant desire to learn new stuff, to be intellectually stimulated and to hear interesting sounds. I say near-constant, because I also quite like X Factor and 24 and enjoy football phone-ins while I’m washing up. If, like me, you’re always on the look out for interesting new articles, blogs and opinions and read; and new, exciting music to hear; and new, cleverly narrated podcasts to digest, then the internet is dangerous.

I spend my time streaming new music on Spotify, while using its own recommendation functions and last.fm and various good music journalism sites and blogs to cue up more interesting music to listen to. My Spotify ‘library’ is probably two years old and full of stuff I’ve never listened to, or barely listened to – and that doesn’t even leave me time for a near full 80gb iPod. Also full of music I don’t have time to listen to.

My podcasts are managed through Overcast – much nicer than Apple’s own podcast app – and it feels like every day I’m subscribing to something new and interesting (and always American, and always in a narrative, long-form journalism vein). Podcasts were my way of making a 35 minute commute interesting. Now they’re slowly taking over my listening.

And then there’s the reading. Good old Instapaper is excellent at saving links and keeping them available offline for whenever I have time to return, but there is just so much quality writing out there – especially on tech and music – that my lists grow and grow, no matter how much time I put aside for reading.

You get all these figures quoted at you now about how we receive more information now in a day than people used to receive in a lifetime – obviously the ‘fact’ version of this stat includes some more concrete dates and so on – and boy do I feel it. As someone who’s online a lot, but lacks free time, I need to find some way to filter, to know what to leave lingering on the internet, never to pass by my eyes or ears, and what is truly essential reading or listening.

There are tactics – learn whose opinion you trust online and whose you don’t; use services like Last.fm and GoodReads and follow their recommendations and their recommendations only; or just get philosophical about it. Yeah, you’ll miss a good record or a good article sometimes, but who cares? If it’s really good you’ll hear about it again and again and again and then you’ll know to follow it up.

I half thought about delaying music discovery until the end of year lists. But everyone’s done top 100 albums and top 100 songs. ONE HUNDRED! I’ve not even listened to 100 albums this year, let alone got a top 100. And then, of course, there are Spotify playlists of all the best songs of 2013 and 2014 to explore. And then you’ll find some new artists to explore; and decide to find some interviews with them to find out more, and the cycle returns.

The internet is an amazing place, and the opportunities it creates are vast, but by god we’re going to have to learn how to control all that it offers us, or we’lol all end up with to-read and to-listen-to lists that never end.


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