Here’s a brilliant article that explores and explains why there’s a difference between the things we want to do later and the things we actually do later:
The Misconception: You procrastinate because you are lazy and can’t manage your time well.
The Truth: Procrastination is fuelled by weakness in the face of impulse and a failure to think about thinking.
Netflix reveals something about your own behaviour you should have noticed by now, something which keeps getting between you and the things you want to accomplish.
If you have Netflix, especially if you stream it to your TV, you tend to gradually accumulate a cache of hundreds of films you think you’ll watch one day. This is a bigger deal than you think.
Read the rest of the article here: Procrastination by David McRaney
Now, not later…
One of the numerous blogs I read, normally during my lunch break or while cooking dinner, is that of Seth Godin — marketing guru, entrepreneur, public figure and speaker, and populariser and coiner of the term permission marketing (better known in Internet circles as opt-in).
Most of his blog posts are short and to the point, and are normally of relevance well beyond the sphere of marketing. Hence me reading them, averse as I am to marketing in general.
His latest post really struck a chord with me, covering as it does the apparent correlation between book purchases and addiction to television (particularly banal types of reality TV):
Many people in the United States purchase one or fewer books every year.
Many of those people have seen every single episode of American Idol. There is clearly a correlation here.
Access to knowledge, for the first time in history, is largely unimpeded for the middle class. Without effort or expense, it’s possible to become informed if you choose. For less than your cable TV bill, you can buy and read an important book every week. Share the buying with six friends and it costs far less than coffee.
Or you can watch TV.
The thing is, watching TV has its benefits. It excuses you from the responsibility of having an informed opinion about things that matter. It gives you shallow opinions or false ‘facts’ that you can easily parrot to others that watch what you watch. It rarely unsettles our carefully self-induced calm and isolation from the world.
I recommend reading the whole post: Deliberately uninformed, relentlessly so [a rant]
Like Seth did not, I am not going to try to suggest that you do away with your television. It’s here to stay, in one form or another, and these days it has multiple roles as the display device of television, games console screen and home theatre display.
This is also because I’m rather fond of it myself — perhaps a little too fond. Some time ago I realised that I was getting home from work, switching the TV when I got in the door, and would sit and watch it until I went to bed.
Life’s not meant to be lived in front of a TV any more than it’s meant to be lived playing video games (also something I’m a little too fond of). There’s more to life than consumption of passive entertainment to fill in the time between work and sleep (or birth and death, perhaps). I am, of course, limiting the context of this post to the developed world.
We’ve never lived in an age where information has been more readily accessible (nor, paradoxically, in an age where we’ve trusted it less). We have the majority of the wealth of human knowledge no more than a few keystrokes and milliseconds away. Yet it’s been argued that we’re slowly developing a population who could never design something like the Internet: science and engineering uptake in schools and universities is dropping, literacy rates are dropping, people are losing the ability to write and communicate, and voluntary ignorance is increasingly prized above intelligence.
As Seth says, it’s not a new problem, but it got me wondering about how it affects my own life. In my own little microcosm, I realised that hours in front of a television was time not well spent. There’s never a shortage of interesting things to watch on TV, and you can’t watch it all. Not even all the stuff that specifically interests you (I could watch crime shows, science shows, documentaries and world cinema all day — and with satellite TV it’s possible to do that 24×7). And let’s not forget the cost of satellite or cable TV — many are on contracts that cost a small fortune, so we want our money’s worth, whatever that means.
Too much intellectually passive entertainment prevents me from doing the intellectually active things I very much enjoy, particularly reading and writing. From self-education in science, finance, skepticism, history and biographies to the escapism of well-written fiction and exploring different genres, I can read all day often with no sound in the house but for my cat gently snoring in the corner. Providing I keep the TV off. And as for being creative, it just doesn’t happen if I even look at the remote control — procrastination takes over and the small voice in my head always says that if I just watch this one show, it may give me some ideas on the story I’m writing. It lies. Not about the ideas, but that I’ll then get writing.
I self-experimented for some time by allowing myself to watch TV or play games until 9pm and then switch it off regardless of what was on (much easier with modern DVR systems such as Sky+), leaving the rest of the evening for creativity. While it did result it wonderful productivity, the downsides are that the time is limited and I quickly realised that once I got going, I couldn’t stop my brain. At all. Every time I tried it and got to bed at a normal time, I’d lay wide awake in bed until 3am or so, wrecking me the next day.
End result: I don’t read or write anywhere near as much as I’d like to, even though I usually read a chapter of a book in bed before switching off the light.
So how can one strike a balance between the passive couch-potato and the (often smug) “I don’t own a TV, actually!” people we all know? Pick nights of the week during which the TV stays off? Set a specific time in the evening at which the TV can be turned on or must be turned off? Something else?
I’m genuinely curious.
My daily commute is about 50 minutes each way – giving me over 8 hours of listening time each week – so rather than listen to the same music each day or listen to one-eyed opinion radio, I prefer to listen to podcasts on topics that interest me.
As I often get asked what podcasts/vodcasts* I subscribe to, I thought I’d provide my current list — last updated 16 April 2009:
Podcasts (audio only):
- 4 Feet Running: Friends in Fo Rivva (*ahem*), who podcast their runs together.
- Archaeology Channel
- Astronomy Cast: I love astronomy and, well, Pamela’s voice… ’nuff said.
- The Atheist Experience: Cable access show by the ACA in Austin, Texas. (New).
- Binge Thinking History
- Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
- Dr Karl’s Science on Mornings: Dr Karl covers great “citizen science” topics.
- Freelance Radio: Self employment tips.
- Geologic: The maestro and comedian, George Hrab, speaks! (New).
- Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
- The History Network (Military)
- Humanist Network News: Occasional humanism news.
- I Should Be Writing: Writing tips, etc.
- Inside Oxford Science: Feeds the knowledge monster.
- The Jodcast: Jodrell Bank Observatory’s own podcast.
- Naked Archaeology
- Naked Scientists: Feeds the knowledge monster.
- New Humanist: Another infrequent podcast, but normally worth it.
- The Non-Prophets: Atheist radio show by loud, opinionated people. Reminds me of home!
- Podrunner: Contiguous running music – each episode has a set BPM.
- Point of Inquiry
- Reasonable Doubts
- The Skeptic Zone: Australian podcast for science and reason.
- Skepticality: Official podcast of Skeptic Magazine.
- Skeptics’ Guide 5X5: 5 minutes on a skeptical topic.
- Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe: A frankly brilliant skeptical podcast.
- Skeptoid: Covers a skeptical topic each episode.
- Slacker Astronomy
- Survival Guide to Writing Fantasy
- Thinking Allowed: Interesting topics discussed and analysed.
- World Archaeology News
- Writing Excuses: Fantastic show by SF&F authors on how they approach their work.
- The Writing Show
Vodcasts (video or combined):
- After the Flag: The official MotoGP summary show.
- BBC Sky at Night Magazine
- Diggnation: The week’s top Digg articles.
- Drawing Tutorials Online
- J.C. Hutchins: One of my two favourite podcast authors.
- Scott Sigler: The other of my two favourite podcast authors.
- Tiki Bar TV: Occasional bizarre but clever cocktail recipe show.
The list above changes periodically as I discover new shows or existing shows turn out to be low quality, irrelevant to my interests or just simply go to that podcast site in the sky. ;)
I also listen to/watch a number of others at work, but these are my main subscriptions.
So what interesting podcasts do you listen to?
* If you’ve been living under a rock, a podcast is a periodic MP3 ‘show’ and a vodcast is a periodic video ‘show’ – both usually via an RSS feed, and obained via visiting the show’s website, an RSS reader or using podcatcher software such as iTunes.
It struck me today that it’s quite difficult to find a happy balance between the consumption of information — from blogs, newspapers, periodicals, etc — and contributing to the public sphere. I have a voracious appetite for knowledge, including conscious revision of prior Did you know…? “facts” that often turn out to be erroneous or unproved, but the trick seems to be working out an acceptable ratio of input (reading and watching) to output (writing and blogging). As someone with a reasonable level of research skill and a high level of Internet experience, it’s extremely easy to spend all my time consuming what the world has to offer.
Even with a good RSS reader like Bloglines or GReader, consumption of information can take all of my time if I’m not careful, particularly as I’ve always felt that one should have more than just a passing familiarity with a topic before opining on it. After all, as we’re so often told these days, once you hit the Publish button on your blog, you are a published author… in the eyes of litigators, at least. And I have quite a few personal and professional interests.
I suppose I’m like most people: there are a number of topics on which I am an expert, some on which I am a keen hobbyist or competent lay-person, and a limitless amount for which I haven’t a hope of being able to bluff my way through. The trick is where to draw the line and to recognise that, although one might not know a particular topic in any depth, the application of critical thinking and logic should provide enough to enable a fair appraisal of it, even if it’s not feasible to become an authority on it.
Of course, a shortfall with this approach is that faulty thinking, idealogy, emotions or subjectivity can allow for conclusions that are not based in reality. I’m sure every person already holds numerous such “facts”, but having them in our heads doesn’t make them real. It now depends on whether you’re prepared to re-evaluate them or not.