I’d like to capture some feelings I have about a pattern I’ve noticed on the internet: the tendency towards curation. There are wonderful people—newsletter writers and tweeters—who serve the role of curator: who put together long collections of links and quotes from various articles and rabbit holes on the internet, with the idea that they’re saving you time by finding the very best bits of the web.

Unlike most of history, we live in an age when human-generated content (everything from books to essays to videos to tweets) is wildly overabundant. There are 500 million tweets sent each day, and this random internet link suggests there are 4.4 million blog posts published. It’s only reasonable to defer some responsibility for filtering all this information to something or someone else. This is the function that curators (and algorithms) serve.

On the receiving end of this behemoth of information generation and filtration is me as an individual: inundated with curations, each of which is overflowing with links and quotes. Unfortunately, for me these curations tend to have the opposite of their intended effect; rather than feeling like I’ve had my time and attention saved, I feel more distracted, more scattered, more anxious about which among the dozens of links I should be directing my attention to.

One part of the problem here is with me, individually: my unrelenting fear of missing out, my compulsion to read every interesting link and know everything that the people I respect are thinking about.

But the other part of the problem is with the way we, broadly speaking, think about curation and information consumption. It’s a fixation on quantity, on snappy quotes, on collecting links to ideas rather than deeply understanding and explaining the ideas themselves.

If you want to understand, you should not be in a hurry.¹ When I think about the best ideas I’ve consumed, I’ve usually reaped benefit from them only after digesting them slowly, taking the time to think about them, considering flaws or alternative explanations, and becoming familiar enough with them to integrate them into the way I think about the world. For this reason I lean more into depth—I’d rather spend ten hours reading one great book than a hundred good articles.

To be clear, there is value in the short-form too. Occasionally there’s a single blog post or tweet—or even a four-word phrase within said blog or tweet—that triggers a click in my brain, that snaps together a incoherent jumble of ideas I’d been struggling to reconcile up until that moment.² For these reasons, I still turn to feeds and curations as part of my information diet. We need blogs and tweets; a greater quantity of ideas enables greater quality of ideas; we need curators.

But we should set limits. I recognize that the information overload and decision fatigue I get from huge collections of links is not good for my brain, so I lean towards blogs that have fewer links, that focus more on explanation and exposition than curation. I know that if my entire day has gone by only consuming pieces of content that have required no more than a few minutes of my attention each, I’ve missed something important that day.

In practice, this is how it looks for me: read books, and read them slowly. Try to begin the day with a book rather than twitter or blogs (I often fail at this). Pick one (maybe two) curators who tend to collect articles that you find fascinating, and take your time to go through their curations. Maintain one queue of short-form content to consume, and accept that you won’t get through all of it. Differentiate the desire to read for the sake of being well-read—or for the sake of not missing out—from the deeper, child-like wonder within you. Remember that the vast majority of tweets and articles available to you are not going to change your life.

And I’d like to see just a little bit more of this mentality among others. A mild shift towards depth rather than breadth, towards intimacy with ideas rather than mere vague acquaintance. A focus on content rather than links.

Notes

  1. Andy Matuschak has some great notes on this.
  2. Not to mention that short-form content can be a source of fun just for the sake of it. You can still browse through Facebook meme groups and viral TikToks and puppy vlogs because you enjoy them, even if they have no discernible long-term impact on your thinking.