A Well Curated Feed Reader is a Wonderful Substitute for Social Media
For the times when you just gotta scroll.
Imagine an app like Twitter or Reddit with no comments, no quick-takes, and that only allows professional journalists to post to it. A well-curated RSS reader can scratch that same “Just show me something interesting” itch, minus most of the addictive and emotionally triggering content that literally fuels the big social media sites. It also can be an important stepping stone to spending less time online overall.
Two recommended services are Inoreader and Feedly (I prefer Inoreader), but many options exist, including software that can sync feeds to a device for later offline reading. Inoreader and Feedly are very similar, and both sync on multiple platforms. Both have great free tiers but offer paid subscriptions for more customization (but you probably won’t need it).
What sort of feeds to subscribe to:
Local news & blogs
Using the digital world to be reminded of your actual world is a key way to prevent getting “lost” online. Even if you’re not very active in your IRL community, just knowing about what’s going on can be very grounding and help you feel connected. (I’ve written before about how Instagram can be hyper curated to achieve a similar effect)
If you live in an urban area, it’s likely there are significantly more local blogs and newspapers than you are even aware of. Those free weeklys at the corner store? They probably have a website with an RSS feed. Some can even be hyper-specific to a particular neighborhood. Follow them all, even the ones that are essentially just restaurant reviews. The point isn’t to read every article start-to-finish, but to be aware of what’s going on and to feel more connected to your community.
Topics you like.
This sounds obvious but I noticed when scrolling sites like Reddit, that the articles I wanted to read, were not always the ones I was actually clicking on. Clickbait works! Even the best new outlets and content creators are incentivized to be a little clickbaitey sometimes. The way the media ecosystem is set up guarantees that one can’t fully escape clickbait, even if you prioritize sources with only the driest of headlines.
In essence, what you need to do is take all those articles you’d wished you’d clicked on from social media, and add their sources to your RSS reader. That way, even if you click on the clickbatiest headline, you’ll still end up reading something from a source you trust and a topic you like. Here you control the sources. By creating your own “endless scroll”, you’ll be less likely to wander off to social media websites.
Topics you wish you liked
It may sound silly, but consider some topics you have a passing familiarity with and wish you could know more about, but don’t have the time (or attention span) to dive into. An example for me is art history. Every time I visit an art museum I declare upon leaving that I will dedicate more time to learning about art. I never do. I’ve long ago accepted that I will never be an art historian, but I have an entire section of my RSS feed dedicated to some fantastic art blogs (shout-out to The Collector!).
I don’t even click on the articles about art that often, much of it is over my head. But that’s not the point. The point is to envelop yourself with thoughtful, nuanced content, not emotionally charged distractions.
Newsletters and other niche news
Stories that will always catch your eye, or topics you like to be up-to-date with. self-help, astronomy, fashion, video games, tech, sports, etc. Find the sources in each category that consistently have the most depth and the least sensationalism. For those of you with ultra-niche hobbies, both Inoreader and Feedly even let you add Subreddits or Twitter accounts to your feed (do so with caution, obviously as Reddit & Twitter can come with a lot of baggage).
Thoughtful social & political commentary*
Ninety percent of the political and social commentaries on the internet are garbage takes that often border on propaganda (if not actually being propaganda). But there exist many thoughtful essays on current events that both provide perspective and nuanced opinions.
You should always read the (real) news first, and develop your own opinions before skipping to the commentary. Good commentary will show you what someone who’s different than you thinks about a topic, or how it affects them in a way you might not have considered. Good commentary gives perspective, it will never tell you how to think about something.
For some people, even thoughtful, nuanced stories about the evils of the world might not be welcome in a feed designed to avoid the emotionally triggering aspects of social media. If politics to you are like the proverbial car crash that can’t be looked away from, maybe consider leaving this part out or keeping it in a different dedicated news app.
Bonus tip: Get Pocket or Instapaper - To curate the already curated
If you still find yourself stuck in a “just scrolling/no reading” trance, send the more interesting looking articles to an app like pocket or Instapaper. Whenever you open those apps, you’ll find them one hundred percent full of the articles most interesting to you!
You’ll never scroll to the end, but the internet is big enough and full of so much content that it’s still possible to create a functionally endless scroll comprised entirely of whole-grain sources that are relevant to you. Is it healthier than running a mile or reading a novel? Probably not. But it’s wise to be prepared with healthier alternatives for the moments of weakness when you just gotta scroll.
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