Principles of most surprise

My recent blog post about my day-to-day routine prompted a question from a few of my tech-aligned friends: why don’t I use an RSS reader, or some other form of syndication/collection service, to manage my daily reading?

First, let me say that I have no problem with RSS feeds and the like; there’s one for my blog over there to the left.  That said, I don’t use them and have no plans to do so in the future.  I’m glad they exist, because I think for a lot of people they provide a lot of value, but they’re not for me.  I think there are two fundamental reasons why I don’t use them.

The first is that I really enjoy routine and ritual.  Presumably said blog post made it clear, but I find life most comfortable when it follows a consistent trajectory.  Small day-to-day changes are fine; I’ll read a book now, play a video game tomorrow.  But no change and all the same makes Phil a happy boy.  And morning reading is a well-worn routine; think of the classic cliché of reading a newspaper at the breakfast table.  It’s a thing I’ve been doing every morning since I was a student worker at LSU almost twenty years ago.  Something about the act of making it A Thing puts me into the proper mindset for the day ahead.

The second reason is a little loosey-goosier, but I think it might actually be more important for me.  We live in an age where surprise is uncommon.  Movies used to have trailers and maybe an article in a magazine; nowadays every summer blockbuster is completely analyzed by the entertainment media from before casting even begins.  Current political climate aside, there just really isn’t that much disruption in the world any more, and most of it (current political climate not aside) is negative, not positive.  As we’ve grown older we’ve become harder to buy gifts for and find it harder to do the same, often leading us to simply asking the giftee what they want… or forgoing the process all-together.  And if you find something confusing or mysterious, a couple of well-worded Google searches are all that stand between you and understanding that St. Elmo’s fire is actually pretty much completely understood nowadays.  (Well, maybe not the movie; it was always my least favorite Brat Pack film.)

And so.  Pulling up a bunch of bookmarks each morning, particularly when several of them have very sporadic update frequencies, is a way to bring a little surprise back into one’s life.  I could be notified every time that Jimmy Maher makes a new post… but I don’t want to be.  I like that momentary flush of excitement when I pull up The Digital Antiquarian in the morning and see he’s written another 5000-word treatise.  What a treat! I think.  Time to dig in.

Perhaps these two views make me come off as something of a stodgy old man; anyone who knows me knows that isn’t the case.  And in some ways the two reasons contradict each other: I like routine, but I also like surprise?  What sort of mealy-mouthed wishy-washy mumbo-jumbo is that?  To which I can only say, hey, welcome to humanity.

 

2 thoughts on “Principles of most surprise”

  1. I did the whole ‘go to all the sites in this bookmarks folder every morning’ from high school through college. Good times.

    Then, Google Reader happened. Thus began Pax Google Reader-ana. Glorious times.

    After Reader was killed, I switched to TheOldReader+Pocket. I visit them less frequently and it’s not as good.

    I’ve supplement in Twitter for current events but I don’t enjoy it as much as I used to so I think I’m going to cut back.

    1. One nice thing about me not using RSS feeds: I’m not as bitter as every other person about the death of Google Reader.

      I find Twitter to be mostly a mess of people screaming at each other. I read precisely one feed, mostly for the snark.

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