Get yourself an RSS reader

There are plenty of bad things to say about social media. I’m not going to run through all of them here because you already know them, and I have to assume that by this point you’ve either left or made your peace with it. I get it. I’m not going to preach. Much.

That said, I think social media, specifically Big Social Media, is destroying the foundational ethos of the internet. The internet was supposed to be about sharing and discovery. The fact that Facebook has coopted the word “sharing” and used it to brand their anemic, and incestuous behavior is sad in as much it demeans the word, and the practice that word was supposed to describe. I have always looked to the internet to show me new things, but social media no longer allows that.

The process used to be simple: Find an interesting website and go there to read it. While reading, you are offered links in the text to other things, on other websites that inform or inspire the article you are reading. Click on those links and you’re on another site where the same thing can happen again. Hyperlinking like this is as old as the web itself. It actually encourages the reader to get sidetracked. Blogs always included links to similar sites in their sidebars or footers as a means to spread the wealth of the attention economy. Blogrolls, and friends link-lists were like treasure maps to different ideas, lighted paths to new interests. And these branching paths were everywhere.

Blogrolls, and link lists still exist but you won’t see them on Facebook. These days social media megaliths abjure that purpose. In their Paleozoic periods they encouraged discovery, but that genealogy atrophied as the social media giants went public, locked down their walled gardens, and focused on engagement. It’s not in Facebook’s interest to have you wandering off to investigate something you might find interesting outside of the blue cage. Instagram wants to suggest other Instagram profiles, but not other places that might encourage you to leave and find something interesting elsewhere. Youtube is now purpose built to keep you watching videos it selects for you. It’s more profitable for social media to perpetuate the illusion of discovery without actually providing an opened door. That way you’ll stay within the confines of their tightly controlled panopticon. The best way to do that is to show you what you already know while harvesting your attention for profit. It’s a form of imprisonment. Facebook’s business model is built on narrowing your interests rather than expanding them. The net effect is stultifying.

I attribute a lot of our ubiquitous malaise to the intellectual stenosis created by social media’s attempt to kill off the hyperlink. The growth of politics as a spectator sport seems to parallel the growth of Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. Social media sites are the engines of outrage, and the vectors through which misinformation is deployed for various purposes. The well of sharing has been poisoned by social media and with it the joy of using the internet. Expecting unique voices, collegial sharing, and a breadth of intellectual stimulation on social media is like visiting a barbecue joint for the vegetarian options. You’re going to be disappointed.

Fortunately for me, old habits die hard. Social media may have swept those habits aside for a decade or so, but the muscle memory remained. Before Facebook and Twitter there was RSS. It was the way I used to follow things that interest me. In 2020 RSS is still there, still ticking along behind the monotone buzz of social media, still providing lit paths to the Isles of Blogging like the humming glow of an old radio dial. In 2020, I’m refurbishing my RSS habit.

I never left RSS completely. In fact I still have IFTTT recipes that use RSS to alert me when a site I like has posted something new. In the past, I managed this process with Google Reader until it shut down in 2013. After that I hung on to a few feeds using IFTTT, and over the years I’ve added a few more. The whole practice has a weirdly post-apocalyptic feel to it, like keeping an old radio working after the end of days so you can listen for signals in the static.

RSS readers are also still here though, and they are still the best way to sample wide swaths of the internet. They give me the power to collect, organize, and curate the bits I like into a playlist of feeds that bring me joy.

I’m trying not to preach here, but you should try it. In fact, I think you owe it to yourself to try it. It’s intellectual self-care. It’s also beneficial to the internet ecosystem as a whole, like planting a tree, or tending an organic garden.

Anyway, here’s how:

Step 1 is to pick yourself an RSS reader. Here are a few decent choices. These are services that include readers. There are stand-alone readers but that’s another conversation. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but for now one of these will give you what you need to get started.


  • Feedbro is a free browser extension for Firefox and Chrome.


  • Feedly is a freemium service. You’ll get ads and a feed limit until you pay.
  • Inoreader is basically the same deal, freemium with limitations.
  • NewsBlur is also freemium with limitations.


Lifehacker has a great rundown if you want some comparisons. If you’re like me you’ll spend too much time obsessing over the details here, but don’t. Use your metric of choice and pick one. I picked Feed Wrangler because I heard good things about it. I knew what I was looking for from past experience and that one ticked all the boxes, but all of the free options are fine and you won’t really know if it’s worth paying for something until you know what you’re buying.

Once you get yourself setup on a reader, go find something to read. This is the part is pretty simple: Go to your search engine of choice and search for a topic you are interested in followed by the word “blog” (for example, I just Googled “Bread-baking blog”). Click on some of the results until you find one you like. Look at the posting dates to make sure the blog you are reading is current and posts with some regularity. This isn’t a life commitment so you don’t have to be super picky, but for a good learning experience you’ll want a source that posts often. When you find a good prospect, add it to your RSS reader.

Now, do that again with another interest. If there are websites that you visit outside of social media sites, try adding them as well. If they have feed you can follow it. Once you do, you can open your RSS reader and read the most recent posts at your leisure.

One of the best parts is that this is an open-ended process. Most bloggers regularly link to other sources of content that interest or inspire them, and those places also have RSS feeds. Links are the strands that make up the web. When you follow one and find something interesting, add it to your reader. Before too long you’ll have a personally curated hub that constantly brings you wonderful things.

From that point on its a game of pruning. Add and delete as necessary to keep your garden clean. Big media sites have RSS feeds but I tend towards smaller operations. There’s nothing more interesting me than a fan site for an obscure topic built by a single author with an obsessive streak, or a small group blog with a unified theme written by a group of people with compulsive writing habits. That is literally the El Dorado of my RSS predilection. And let me tell you there are plenty out there. You haven’t experienced the real internet until you’ve spent some time on a niche site that is written and maintained by a small group of hardcore enthusiasts. And the web is literally crawling with them.

So try it. I’ll post a list of my current RSS garden at a later date, but the real joy is in cultivating your own.

Don’t react.

Don’t react. Sit with it until you know what you feel. Sit with it.

This quote is so relevant to the current milieu. It succinctly describes what I try to do every day. There is a maelstrom of bullshit flung at us every second, but the beautiful truth is you don’t need to react to it right away, and in most cases, if you just let it pass, you’ll find that very little of it requires your attention at all.

Future thinking

First, I note today with some humor that the digital scratch pad I use to rough-write these posts, and which I intended to save with the filename, “blog” is actually saved with the much more appropriate name, “bog” instead. This is the very essence of what Bob Ross called “happy accidents”.

Here’s an interesting essay rant on The Future of Interactive Design. by a former Apple UI guy named Bret Victor. The video he’s discussing is no longer available on his page, but I think its this one. I remember seeing it and thinking some of the same things, albeit way less cogently. But that’s not why I brought it up.

I brought it up because right near the top of the piece, he says the following thing (italics his):

“This matters, because visions matter. Visions give people a direction and inspire people to act, and a group of inspired people is the most powerful force in the world. If you’re a young person setting off to realize a vision, or an old person setting off to fund one, I really want it to be something worthwhile. Something that genuinely improves how we interact.”

That’s a bit of a thing, isnt it? It’s hard to see through the overwhelming miasma of doom that is pumped daily into our eyeballs through the attention harvesters. And that stream of negative reenforcement will eventually break down hopefull visions until all we are left with is the grindstone of despair. If we’re all just well and truly fucked, then what’s the point?

Don’t mistake my criticism of constant pessimism as an abdication of clarity. I am well aware of the fact that we are indeed well and truly fucked right now. But in order to extricate ourselves from the death-spiral it’s going to take some imagination, and if everyone succumbs to nihilism, then imagining a better world is going to be unlikely, and creating one even less so.

At the very least, its useful (not to mention spiritually re-envigorating) to include positive news in your intake. It will give you a much broader picture of the actual state of things. There are in fact people who are already working to realize hopeful visions of the future, and they are using optimism to fuel those ideas.

So take a moment. Find your center. See if you can imagine a hopeful future and what it might look like. You can’t claim to be informed if all you’re doing is reading the bad news.

Gresham’s Law

Jesus, this article will curdle your milk for you.

The goal of Son, and increasingly most large financiers in private equity and venture capital, is to find big markets and then dump capital into one player in such a market who can underprice until he becomes the dominant remaining actor. In this manner, financiers can help kill all competition, with the idea of profiting later on via the surviving monopoly.

Matt Stoller

Grasham’s Law, by the way, states that “bad money drives out good”.

Its one thing to argue the pros and cons of capitalism, but its another thing entirely to say that what passes for capitalism today isn’t a horrendous, shambling, ghoul of a thing, crushing everything in it’s path and trailing an expanding wake of despair while a tiny group of (largely white) dudes harass it forward with diamond cattle prods, hosing each other down with champagne, and high-fiving all the way.

You would think we’d learned some lessons after the sub-prime mortgage meltdown., but clearly we have not. The thing we’re calling capitalism today is really something more like financialism. It’s just money manipulating more money without even a nod to the quaint concept of goods and services.

Late-stage capitalism. What an unrelenting mess.

Both alike in dignity…

There were two noteable events last week that have something to say about the span of history that we inhabit.

The first, a march to protest inaction in the face of climate change, demonstrated that a lot of people all over the world are ready for someone to step up and do somthing before the apocalypse renders the point moot. The second, a small crowd outside of Area 51, proved that there are people willing to carry an internet joke all the way to its ridiculous conclusion.

These two overlapping events are somehow supremely au courant. They are freighted with importance but I can’t put my finger on exactly how and why outside of a sort of system-level knowledge that their juxtaposition means something. And I don’t know if it’s a positive or a negative meaning either.

On the one hand, both of these events are group actions created and organized using free online tools that are available to anyone with internet access. On the other hand both of these gatherings hint at something that looks very much like the fraying of civilization. I know, that’s hyperbolae. And yes this is a very incomplete thought, but something about those two things, their concurrence, their similarities, and their obvious disparities feels like a moment. The desperate attempt address a possible species-level threat juxtaposed with a joyfully nihilistic pursuit of nonsense, all crowd-sourced, all given media attention. It’s like a tableaux that simultaneously depicts everything good and bad about what the internet has brought us.