“Area CIS white Man applauds diversity”

Me on GlobalTV

I got cornered at the park during lunch today to offer a “Random Area Man” soundbite about our mayor’s attendance at the Sugarplum Ball, a cool little event put on by my pals at the Okanagan Young Professionals. Watch the whole segment:

This is a complete non-controversy. I reverse-interviewed the journalist who said she had a difficult time finding anyone with a negative opinion. Even if I am not the ideal person to be speaking about these issues, I am glad to support our mayor in championing minority communities that make our city a place of vitality. I am sure the ball will be a blast.

Watching the segment afterwards though, makes one think of the classic Charlie Brooker sketch:

“I hate these sound bites. I don’t want some punter’s opinion usually.”

Sectioned — On tech coverage in local media

Our mayor ran on a platform including tech.

Our premier seems to have shifted her economic policy to tech.

Our downtown is physically changing thanks to tech.

Dozens of new tech companies start here each year. Dozens die, too.

We are told it is a $1 billion industry. (Tourism is $840M by comparison.)

There is a lot of activity, a lot of money, and a lot of influence involved.

ao_infographic.jpg
We have 321 tech companies here.

The above points indicate that local media in Kelowna should consider adding a dedicated tech section to their coverage. Currently, only KelownaNow has a tech section under Lifestyle, and a few months ago Kelowna Capital News ran a “Tech Talk” package.

Kelowna is starting to be considered a “tech” hub and the public deserves well-rounded, informative pieces which examine how technology impacts the local community. I am not talking about a “gadget review” section — that is better left to larger publications. What is more important to locals is investigating and explaining the social, political, and economic impacts of the local technology sector. Here are some examples of what I would like to see:
Continue reading “Sectioned — On tech coverage in local media”

Nice coverage of tech issues at the local level

Kelowna Capital News Tech Talk special

Kudos to Kelowna Capital News, one of our local newspapers, for running a special on technology last week. Tech is one of the dominant problems in the global zeitgeist, and it is not often that a local paper will put the resources into exploring such an issue in a local context. The Tech Talk package dubbed “Mainframe Communication” (!) is not super hard-hitting, which is understandable since it is geared toward a more general audience, but despite it’s name I think it shows an extraordinary level of awareness. I look forward to more coverage like this.

Included are articles on education, local politics, and employment with some pieces on the legal and social ramifications of unfettered tech. To read it online, check out this piece on Kelowna’s tech economy and see links to all the other articles in the package in the footer of that article.

Who watches the watchers?

Full disclosure: I back CANADALAND on Patreon.

Turning a critical eye towards the national news media is an important and valuable endeavour. But the daily lives of Canadians are influenced far more by local news. Although Jesse Brown’s eps on Hamilton and New Brunswick are informative forays into local conditions (and how terrible they are), it is too much to expect Jesse to cover every local media landscape.

That is the reason I started the Kelowna news media audit. It is an attempt to start a discussion, and to map out our local news media landscape to discover where it serves us well, and where it is weak.

Often the newsmedia is the lens the citizenry uses to observe the doings of local government. Thus it is of vital importance that we as citizens are precisely aware of the condition of that lens. It is key to government and public relations, and vital to a healthy community.

My piece from last week has generated some discussion. I made an appearance on CBC Radio’s Daybreak South with host Chris Walker, and I met the editor of another local outlet for some one-on-one time. And of course there has been some interesting feedback via Twitter. Overwhelmingly many have asked: what’s next?

I am not sure if I want to take the mantle of “Okanagan’s Jesse Brown.” It is a matter of time and training (I have neither). But the media audit certainly did bring up a lot of questions, and some potential paths of research. For example:

  1. Historical analysis: I listed the number of reporters on the beat (which was problematic since “the beat” doesn’t really exist any more). I would be interested in comparing this current number to 5, 10, 15 years ago.
  2. What went down with Kelowna.com? I have talked to two members of that team and I would like to pursue this story. The fact they had 11 reporters backed by tech entrepreneurs makes this story fascinating to me. In the meantime, check out this writeup from one of its former reporters.
  3. Wider context: While I listed the outlets responsible for civic reporting, I did not bring up the city’s public relations department, or other ways a citizen can get information on civic issues. There are more contours to this landscape, and we should be aware of them all.
  4. Related to #3, 15% of our population is foreign-born (according to ancient stats from 8 years ago because we haven’t had a decent census — a topic for another day) but I only covered mainstream English-language outlets. How do our sizable South Asian, Filipino, Korean, Iranian and other minority communities get the news?
  5. Inspired by this tweet, it would be interesting to take attendance for media that show up to council (since apparently some only show up sporadically). Who shows up when, and during what discussions? What conclusions can we draw from this?
  6. Would the media orgs in the community be willing to have a round-table discussion about the landscape here? I would be willing to facilitate, if we couldn’t find a media scholar to do so. Such a discussion would be valuable to the community, methinks.

If there are any media studies or journalism students that would like to tackle these questions, or even just concerned citizens like myself, feel free to get in touch. Maybe we can work together to get a better handle on how we see our own community.

Kelowna news media audit

kelowna newsmedia logos

I was inspired by the story of Joey Coleman, an independent and crowd-sourced reporter in Hamilton, who I learned about from this great episode of CANADALAND about the collapse of local news. It made me think about my local news media landscape, and I decided to compile a list of all the news media outlets in our fair city.

There are two conditions to be on this list:

First, I am only including outlets that provide some amount (however small) of local, civic content. In other words, I exclude outlets that are purely about culture, wine, tourism, festivals or other community events. Not that those aren’t great, I am just more focused on outlets that contribute to an informed citizenry. I want to list the type of outlets that would have a reporter in a city council meeting (hopefully every time…).

Second, I want outlets that create original content. I did not want to include aggregators, of which there are a ton. The orgs on this list have live bodies that type stories on a keyboard, or even better get sent outside to gather news.

The list below is based on what I could find out online, and asking around on Twitter and via email. It is probably not complete, but I am confident I have a pretty good foundation. If you have anything to add, please do so in the comments and I will update the list. Or, if you want to reach out privately, contact me here.


TV

Global News Okanagan. Owned by Shaw Media. 2 field reporters and 1 web reporter in Kelowna; 1 field reporter each in Vernon and Penticton. (source)

ShawTV Okanagan. Owned by Shaw Media. No real news coverage, but they do broadcast City Council meetings on Channel 11.

CTV Okanagan. Owned by Bell Media. 1 news reporter, 1 videographer/editor, and a Facebook page. Responsible for covering BC interior for CTV Vancouver. (source)

Radio

CBC Kelowna including Daybreak South and Radio West. The local incarnation of our public broadcaster, owned by us. Covering the entire Okanagan (and more): 1 reporter, 2 asst. producers, 2 producers, 2 radio anchors, 1 news editor. (source) But no podcast… that’s how I listen to The Current and Spark and all my fave CBC shows!

AM1150. Owned by Bell Media. 4 reporters. (source) Soundcloud which basically means podcast. Provides news coverage to the two other Bell Media radio stations in Kelowna: 99.9 SunFM and 101.5 ezRock.

The other stations don’t seem to have any news coverage, aka:

Newspapers

Daily Courier. Owned by Continental Newspapers Canada Ltd. 1 reporter? (awaiting response).

Capital News. A Black Press paper, owned by David Holmes Black (no relation to Conrad). As far as I can tell, 1 reporter covering civic news (a couple more doing sports and the like). (awaiting response)

Web

Castanet. Owned by Nick Frost. 4 reporters? (awaiting response by email) I like that they have audio uploads of city council and are even distributing them as a podcast, but what they should be doing is recapping them and providing analysis.

InfoTel. Owned by Bonnie Derry. 2 reporters. According to our Lord Mayor, these guys are regulars at City Council.

KelownaNow. Owned by Jim and Nikki Csek and one other minority shareholder. 5 “journalist reporters” in total (confirmed by email with the GM). Not sure how many actually cover civic affairs.


So what does this all mean? Could Kelowna support a Joey Coleman? Considering he is only approaching the break-even point in a market that is four times the size of us, I am doubtful. Yet one reporter for every 10,000 residents seems too low. Well, with only a 30% voter turnout (about 30K people), it is more like one reporter for every 2000 voters. I wonder if these two problems are linked?

Although I am not a media scholar and have no framework for analysis, I certainly think we could be doing better. That is in both quantity and quality. Shaw and Bell own a lot of our traditional news media, while the web-based news orgs are all private and self-identify as "marketing" companies. It'd be nice to see the CBC step up here, maybe add a digital presence, but they have a lot going on already.

Hack startups — The state of ink-stained disruption

Two of the scariest areas in startupland are healthcare and education. These are monolithic, highly regulated sectors with long sales cycles — not particularly prone to “disruption.” In this year’s Kleiner Perkins annual internet trends report, Mary Meeker argues that these two sectors might be at an inflection point. I remain sceptical.

Another sector with hundreds of years of history and entrenched players is investigative journalism. Newspapers have been struggling since their heyday in the 1980s. Revenues are down, churnalism is up, and there are less employed reporters out there chasing down leads.

Newsroom employment over time in the US

Something needs to change, but since most revenue still comes from print, newspapers are loth to experiment too wildly. In effect, newspapers are prisoners of their own business model.

Within journalism, investigative reporting is the most difficult to produce because of the capital required and the long turn-around times involved. In our instant-gratification-mediascape, investigative journalism has fallen by the wayside. What was once a valuable service, subsidized by the the inefficiencies of bundled media empires, is now withered and cut as media behemoths look to slim down in the face of internet disintermediation. This is happening across the board of public interest content — just look at the troubles at the CBC.

I don’t think it can be argued that investigative journalism should be done away with. It is a valuable institution for our democracy — the venerable Fourth Estate. (The Fifth Estate is an extension, not an evolution). Thus, with an established pain (ie. the need to know what is going on in the halls of power) and a market (ie. every citizen), the opportunity for startup disruption is obvious, non? There are certainly a lot people tackling this problem.

AngelList has 194 companies under the “Journalism” market. Most fall under a few categories:

  • marketplaces selling for photos, videos or writing
  • content management platforms for writers, editors, publishers
  • citizen journalism platforms
  • delivering breaking news (usually via social)
  • aggregators and curators (again, backed with social)

Many are solving the problems of “information overload” (through curation) or distributed workforces (through publishing platforms) but as far as I could tell, none are focused on solving the business problem of funding long-term, quality reporting. Paywalls and online advertisements do not suffice.

One solution is lots of money. Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire founder of eBay, started First Look Media with some interesting new ideas on how to fund real journalism (I encourage you to watch the video). Last year, Jeff Bezos of Amazon purchased The Washington Post. We are still unsure of how WaPo will change.

I am one of the few people that is actually willing to pay for content. I have subscriptions to a few established news outlets (Foreign Affairs, Globe and Mail, The Economist etc) and I have even supported some startups in the space. I backed Matter (later acquired by Medium) which tries to solve the problem of terrible science and technology reporting. They had a community-based editorial board where members could vote for allocating commissions.

Another outlet I have used in the past is Atavist. They have an interesting model in that they are a product company that commissions longer pieces to feature its platform. The non-fiction pieces can sometimes approach investigative journalism. The business model is subscriptions and micropayments, and the selling of their publishing platform Creativist.

Most recently I have discovered a Canadian startup Ricochet Media. I heard about them on Jesse Brown’s Canadaland podcast. Ricochet is trying to square the circle of funding independent, investigative journalism in Canada. Like Beacon, Vourno and Contributoria they are going with a crowd-funding model. Like Matter they have a community-driven editorial process. They are trying to get off the ground by crowdfunding themselves on IndieGogo. We shall see how they do.

Journalism is a “hard problem.” Some have argued that it has been failed by the market because you cannot treat citizens as consumers. Some say public-interest journalism should be considered a public good. If this is true, traditional startups will have trouble disrupting anything due to their market-first orientation. There could be some business model innovation that could work, or maybe a SocEnt solution. It might come down to [shudder] consumer education and teaching people to pay for valuable things. I don’t know the answer, but this is a sector that I am deeply interested in and hope we get a solution soon.

Arguments v. Beliefs and responsibility

Eviscerating pundits who use boatloads of clichés is akin to shooting fish in a barrel (I took a couple of shots myself recently). But that doesn’t stop Thomas Frank in the latest edition of Harper’s from lamenting the tiresome and vacuous use of language by the punditocracy. One of his targets is the use of “argument” as a way to distance oneself from a conclusion. He gives the following examples:

“history just argues incredibly strong against it.”
“one could argue that Barack Obama’s smartest political move was putting Hillary Clinton in his Cabinet so that she wasn’t outside with Bill Clinton causing mischief.”
“Presidents have always been taking vacations and complaining about it amounts to a little more than partisan carping, one could argue.”

Frank calls this usage pattern “an epidemic”, writing:

People in the land of professional commentary no longer believe things or propose things or even assert things; they argue them.

Nice observation, but why is this? The true epidemic here is twofold. Firstly, lack of ownership. Pundits must loudly and reductively state their position in the most indirect way as a matter of job security. In The Signal and the Noise Nate Silver analyzed the accuracy of election predictions made by The McLaughlin Group, a rotating subgroup of the professional pundit class, and concluded that they offer as much predictive value as a mere penny.

The second source of these weasel words is due to the unassailable quality of beliefs. Rampant relativism and extreme individualism create an environment where beliefs are a personal right not to be criticized. Thus, no one is able to assert any beliefs, because they might infringe upon the beliefs of others. If you are not convinced, test this on a nearby creationist.

Certainly a lamentable situation. Although I enjoyed Frank’s observations, I wish he followed his lamentations with some assertions.

Smart Masses

In my last post I explored the characteristics of public intellectuals and pointed out that they are defined somewhat by their audience; which has recently become fragmented to the detriment of the occupation of public intellectual. Today I would like to examine the characteristics of a sophisticated, intellectually engaged audience. Does an audience that can appreciate the dying, generalist public intellectual even exist?

Like the public intellectual, the intellectual audience has evolved over the past few hundred years. The culture of curiosity and willingness to engage in social critical discourse has never been universal. Only a privileged few were able to turn their attention from mere survival and put energy into developing mentally, morally and aesthetically. Private tutors date back to classical times, teaching with the dialectic in an oral manner. Print revolutionized the spread of knowledge, but in the middle ages it was still limited to the clerical class with their Latin texts. Intellectualism had been pulled under into the murky depths of theological navel-gazing. The shining light of the Renaissance brought books, book clubs and parleys in coffee shops. Newspapers and journals became the vehicle of ideas in an era where “public opinion” began to become recognized. Literacy was becoming more widespread, as was education. In the modern era education meant classical training in Latin and Greek, the trivium and quadrivium. Since the 20th century literacy and education became widespread and the label of “educated person” has lost its former status. An intellectual or “sophisticated” audience was no longer merely the literate or the educated. Not that I am criticizing the “universal opulence” of education (to borrow a phrase from Adam Smith). Humanity, and myself, have benefitted greatly. But do not equate the growing population of literate and educated to those who share a culture of curiosity and inquiry. Just because you can read doesn’t mean you can think.

The commodification of media in recent generations has also fragmented audiences. During the years of network television and magazines of opinion, public intellectuals could attain a reach further than any previous generation. Furthermore, standardized education and mass media meant that the populace had a common pool of literary, philosophical, aesthetic work to draw upon. A common technique for intellectuals is to introduce new concepts through the reference and synthesis of previously expressed ideas. There is an assumption of familiarity with the “classics”.

The explosion of media in the past twenty years (magnified by the world wide web) has meant that it is easier to access gads of information in your chosen niche. Similar to the silo-fication of academic knowledge we now have the silo-fication of popular knowledge. Negative criticism of this development have been brought up in countless books and articles, for example Eli Parser’s The Filter Bubble. Regardless of the value judgement, the result has been shattering of “public” into multitudes of smaller, more personal “publics”. Jeff Jarvis explores this concept in his book on sharing in the digital age Public Parts. From the perspective of the public intellectual, rather than a smart mass, we now have smart masses.

Polymathism and shared intellectual culture have given way to the specialization of knowledge and a multiverse of publics, each with their own canon of knowledge. Maybe it is my own nostalgia, but I long for the time when one could read a thought-provoking essay riddled with literary references. Nowadays it seems the mark of “high” culture is a reference to The Wire.

As we have evolved away from the “classical” education of Latin and Greek, we are evolving into a culture with new forms of literacy — less focus on rote facts, more around problem-solving and knowledge synthesis skills. We no longer need to memorize long passages of poetry or scripture. What need for a common educational experience when a literary or cultural reference is merely a click away with Google and Wikipedia?

Moreover, the sheer amount of information accessible by the average human today is daunting. I have a book titled Too Much to Know that (somewhat ironically) sits unopened on my Kindle shelf. By the gods I had to take an information diet!

The path for the 21st century intellectual might be to go in search of a public of his or her own. A subset of that public should be philosophes, the people with a culture of inquiry. The intellectual must appeal to this audience, using references from that domain to forge new ideas and perceptions of society at large. They must achieve intellectualism within their chosen public. Then perhaps they can connect the sophisticates from their public to other publics.

This nodal approach might be a better representation of nuanced public opinion. Nowadays public opinion has been reduced to mere mathematical averages (as if two integers could encapsulate the breadth of thoughts and feelings of a nation). The blind authority the public gives to these polls is compounded by their misunderstanding of mathematics. The Irish mathematician and satirist Des MacHale quipped that the average human walks around with one breast and one testicle.

The high initial curve of the power law graph expressed in the Long Tail shows that there still will be the occasional superstar public intellectual with wide reach. Where they once laboured in lonely obscurity, the long tail intellectuals can be successful within their own cultural niche (a different kind of obscurity, to be sure). I am not sure what this means in terms of calibre. Seeing how quality is expressed in the long tail of entertainment makes me not want to discount the small-time intellectuals. I mean, who wants to be the Justin Bieber of public intellectualism?

As to the question of whether to pursue a classical, generalist education, or follow the new evolution of sophistication within smaller publics, I have decided — in light of my own deficiencies — to experiment with the traditional route. Within my own public (techno-geeks?) I am fairly well-read, and can enjoy discourse sprinkled with references to geek culture. However, I feel at a disadvantage since I have no “classical” training. Ever since the age of 16 I focused on the language, history, culture and religions of the Far East. I spent my formative years reading (translations) of Japanese literature. In university my eyes opened to the wider world. I became a newshound, but this will give you no insight into the intellectual foundation of the West. I have since learned the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson: “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.” For 2013 I think I will put genre fiction on the shelf (except for one or two currently in my pile) and attempt to read more “literature”. If the experiment goes awry, I can always return to my warm and comfortable niche. As always, you can see what I am reading on Goodreads.

From Belletrist to Blogger: What progress, and the internet, has done to public intellectualism

Much like the cliché of society, the state of public intellectualism seems to be eternally in decline. Yet in the early 21st century, I think we have a legitimate claim to this omen. I propose two reasons: 1) the extreme specialization of knowledge, and 2) the method of public discourse.

As the sphere of human knowledge grows wider, the pursuit of knowledge has required more and more specialization. The unintended consequence of this evolution is the silo-fication of knowledge. Academics have a difficult time explaining themselves to non-specialists.

On my first day of studying theoretical linguistics at the University of British Columbia, the department head welcomed us with a speech glorifying the epistemological exploration we were embarking on, while simultaneously ensuring us that we would not be able to talk to anyone about our work at parties.

I think this is one reason why academics have a difficult time blogging. Modern academics deal in nuance; the foundation of knowledge required to understand such nuance cannot be imparted in a 300-500 word blog post.

Wikipedia’s entry on Intellectual is an engaging account of “men of letters” for the past three centuries — from belletrist, littérateur and literati to essayist, journalist and critic. The article defines the various categories of intelligentsia and does well by contrasting public intellectuals with scholars and academics. There is another category that I would add to the list: public educators.

For example: Brian Greene, Brian Cox, Neil deGrasse Tyson have all played an important role in public education and popularizing science. These men are all very public academics, but are too specialized and focused on their fields to be considered public intellectuals. Sam Harris and Steven Pinker might also fall into this category, but like Richard Dawkins and Noam Chomsky, they are a bit more rounded.

Rather than deeply specialized knowledge, a public intellectual is armed with informed and critical thinking, and should be familiar with a number of subjects. Public intellectuals typically cover topics relating to general society, public policy, ethics, politics, theology etc. Academic specialists may have a tough time traversing all of these topics. Two professions that are particularly capable in this regard are philosophers and journalists. The Wikipedians rightfully list Chomsky, Dawkins, Edward Said, Jean Paul Sartre and Christopher Hitchens. Notwithstanding the impressive academic backgrounds, there is quite a mix of philosophy and journalism in there. To me, multidisciplinarianism is a requirement of a public intellectual. Take Penn Jillette. Here is a man who can argue passionately about the libertarianism and atheism, who has invented a hot tub for women and who can catch a bullet in his teeth! That, my friends, is a polymath.

Furthermore, an engaging public intellectual should be erudite, witty, and somewhat of an entertainer. Unfortunately this particular characteristic has led professional entertainers to feel they have leave to become public intellectuals, which mostly has led to disaster (I cast my condescending eye towards Jenny McCarthy, while I praise the likes of Stephen Fry).

What about pundits? The television and radio waves are beset with perfectly-coiffed and syrupy-voiced idealogues. Public intellectuals strive to raise the level of public understanding. Pundits strive to push an agenda. They already have the answers, and are thus the enemies of reason and critical thinking. Pundits may be dismissed as simply talking heads.

We expect more from our public intellectuals. As good as the Wikipedia article is in its definition it misses one critical element: reach. Public intellectuals try to influence society, to effect (perceived) positive change (NOTE: I think this is why Fredrich Hayek thought that public intellectuals were disproportionately socialist, or “liberal” in the modern parlance). Defining a public intellectual is as much about the audience as it is about the individual. Technology has influenced how public intellectuals reach their audiences drastically.

Modes of public discourse have evolved over the millennia, but for intellectuals the printed word changed everything. Pamphlets, handbills, essays, books and maybe most important — newspapers — helped spread ideas to the masses and encouraged dialogue. In the twentieth century, radio and television became important modes of discourse. By the end of that century, broadcast media fragmented into hundreds of television channels and satellite radio stations, giving rise to specialty channels like C-SPAN, or to talk radio personalities. Presently, we have come full circle with the rise of the new “men (and women) of letters”: bloggers.

With the rise of the internet and explosion of the market of ideas — like record labels and newspapers before them — public intellectuals are becoming victims of the long tail. The broadcast era was a boon because it allowed ideas and arguments to reach the masses through a single pipe. It did not suffer (so much) the problem of the filter bubble, from the fractured masses self-selecting a narrow range of ideas to consume.

Yet the broadcast era undoubtedly suffered from a shallower market of ideas. “Mainstream” meant something in that era, and getting into the less-processed, earthy underground was difficult. However, the democratic nature of the internet has muddied the intellectual waters terribly. Recall Socrates criticism of the Sophists and his advocacy for a “knowledge-monopoly”, or Plato’s elitist notion of “philosopher kings”.

The justification of the role of public intellectuals is that the general public itself does not have the rigorous training in reason and critical thinking. Yet the public can easily fire up a blog and sell their thoughts in the market of ideas, regardless of their rigour (this includes, of course, your humble correspondent).

A public intellectual may be a blogger, but bloggers are not public intellectuals. It is in this regard that bloggers are similar to academics in their disqualification from public intellectuals. Academics have training but no audience. Bloggers have audience but no training.

The decline and fall of the public intellectual has come to pass on the heels of disappearing multidisciplinarians, ceding the public discourse to public academics. Secondly, they are relegated to obscurity thanks to the vast sea of ideas on the internet. The airwaves have already been conquered by primetime pundits who trade controversy for ad dollars, and the thoughtful magazines and newspapers that served as clearinghouses for erudition have been shuttering for a lack of those same ad dollars. Where do we turn to get a deeper understanding of society? It isn’t Twitter or Facebook, or even blogs. Maybe projects like Longreads, Matter and The Magazine will become new forums for deeper thought. Maybe it will be a more collaborative solution like Wikipedia or Branch. I am not sure, but I sure do miss Hitchens. I hope I can find more out there like him.

Breaking fast

This is a follow-up post to Information Fast where I pledged to constrain my information intake for the month of September in an experiment.

Let’s start with a brief after action report:

Fast results

I consumed no football, nor any of the punditry. I have no idea what is happening to Spurs or the Whitecaps. I didn’t scroll through Tumblr, Google+, Hacker News or the like. I posted to Twitter and G+ a few times as a broadcast medium (mainly links to my blog posts), and replied to mentions, but gave up my morning and evening catching-up of the stream. I was successful in my use of App.net and enjoyed it. I watched only three movies this month, two with my daughter. I watched four TV episodes (BrBa) which I just started this weekend. This could be a problem going forward…

Failures

I wasn’t able to stick to one non-fiction book. The reason is the book I picked up at the beginning of the month was an actual paper book. It is nearly a month later and I still haven’t broken the 100 page mark. It is far too difficult to get in the right context to read a paper book for me. Ebooks on the other hand can be read anywhere. It was one of the main reasons for getting a Galaxy S3: the size of the display is very comfortable to read on. I was able to blast through a few eBooks this month including The Information Diet and Startup Communities. All the while, my poor paper book languishes on the mantle.

A partial failure was podcasts. Although I limited myself to a single podcast, I did not listen to one episode. This was because there were no episodes that interested me (Star Trek and Journey?) or others that I want to check the source material first (Small Change, Doctor Who) I didn’t listen to one episode this month. I think this contributed to my consumption of non-fiction audiobooks (see my review of Future Tense).

Conclusion

Overall, this experiment was a success. I found myself with much more time to think, and even kindled in me a thirst for knowledge that I haven’t felt for a long time. Before, I was consuming much more information, but I was not synthesizing it into healthy knowledge. Basically: empty calories. By choosing carefully and thinking about what I consume, my brain muscle feels stronger after only a few weeks.

One thing that makes me happy is that my blog output has increased. I did not put out a ton of posts (mostly due to me spending time converting my blog to Octopress and redesigning my personal site), but later in the month I was able to write some substantial pieces. In all I wrote about 3800 words for the blog this month (including this post). That is a huge increase.

I did feel out of the loop concerning All Things Apple, especially since the launch of the iPhone 5. But it was actually refreshing. I have lived that life non-stop for five years. I think I can let other people take over for me now.

Next steps

So, the fast is over. Now to construct a healthy information diet. As mentioned above I am starting Breaking Bad finally, which means I will have to watch that I don’t fall back on passive consumption rather than reading at night again. I also have the new season of Doctor Who queuing up as I write this. I must be vigilant or my “attention fitness” will suffer.

As for taking Clay Johnson’s advice, I am considering a few things:

  1. Twitter: I quite enjoyed just using it just for broadcast, but I might try bringing reading back by only checking the Tweets of the people in my community. App.net I will continue with because I want to support it. Maybe someday my community members will move to it and I can drop Twitter altogether.
  2. News: I am going to experiment with local news sources. I am not sure what is available for Kelowna that is good, but I intend to find out. I will start up Intigi again in the near future, only because I found it helpful in surfacing news about space that I could not get without much trawling of RSS and Twitter.
  3. Podcasts: The Incomparable and You Look Nice Today for sure. I might consider listening to Critical Path again, since I don’t get a chance to read the blog, and I learn lots about business from Horace.
  4. Apple blogs: Nope.
  5. Books: Focusing on one at a time is much easier if they are eBooks. Lesson learned. Will continue with this.
  6. TV and Movies: Stick to my plan of BrBa and later Doctor Who. I might not have time for many movies which is okay.
  7. Meetups: More of this. Actually interacting with others is important for synthesizing ideas. I will probably post about this again.