Think that you should read that well-written, high-quality article your friend just shared on social media? Think again. It might be a huge waste of time. Rather than reading any interesting article that crosses your path, make a conscious learning plan.
I lost my own clickbait virginity to Upworthy. They were great at hijacking my mind. They would send me ten psychologically manipulative headlines an hour, and you’ll be shocked when you hear about #6!
These days, the problem isn't clickbait, it's high-quality content. Too much of it. Way too much. When you find articles on topics you love, you read them: science, health, wellness, fitness, cooking, the politics you follow as a concerned citizen … and all your other hobbies and interests.
You may have learned to resist low-quality dreck like Billy Bob’s “The Real Truth” conspiracy blog, but that doesn't mean that what you do read is the best use of your time.
6 Ways to Make the Most of Your Online Reading With a Learning Plan
1. Separate quality writing from useful writing
When clickbait tricks you, you know you're being hijacked. But high-quality content feels meaningful. You read articles about the Big Bang. Someone's around-the-world diary blog. An essay on poultry farming conditions. (Maybe there is such a thing as too much roast duck). Each is fun when it shows up. But after ten years of reading, I’ve found it adds up to nothing.
The articles informed you, but they were chosen to get you to "engage," not to help you become who you want to become.
What if you chose your own topics, like in the olden days of yore? It’s a bit more work, but then you get to decide who you become.
Billy Bob’s “The Real Truth” conspiracy blog? Low-quality. Anything you read—no matter how well written—so you can feel outraged? Also low-quality.
2. Choose a higher purpose
Take back control. Choose a purpose and then get reading. When articles, videos, or books cross your path, pursue the ones that fill that purpose.
Take back control. Choose a purpose and then get reading.
Are you concerned about the politics in Nauru? (And who isn’t?) Just read articles on Nauru. You don’t even need to wait until they cross your feed. Search for many sources to get a rich understanding of Nauru’s complex dynamics. Not only will you be a hit at cocktail parties, but your impressive knowledge might give you a shot at the Ambassadorship.
4. Set a learning agenda
If you want to learn, then really learn. And not like watching TED talks. They’re mental popcorn. Each one tastes great for 22 minutes, then you’re on to the next. That’s not learning. That’s skimming.
If you’re reading to learn, decide what you want to learn. Like the history of the kazoo. Don’t just click any article that pops up. Click the kazoo articles. Read about different aspects of kazoos. Read from different kazoo sources. Read scientific sources, practitioner sources, amateur sources, professional sources. Go deeper, wider, inner, outer, slower, faster until you’ve got knowledge coming out the kazoo.
If you want to discover new topics, you can still do it without becoming social media’s mind slave. Ask a friend what they recommend. Even if the Evil Algorithm shows they shared an article on the mating habits of naked mole rats this morning, still ask. They might recommend something different.