Interconnected unfinished circles of thoughts on consuming information
One of my "resolutions" this year was to know more. Or something. I decided that i, "the new concise quality newspaper from The Independent", would be a good briefing on what's going on in the world. I am the person who came in from school one day in September and saw footage of something quite terrible but did not recognise the seriousness of what was going on. I am the person for whom big things, things that everybody else is talking about, seem to creep up on. I suddenly realise what's happening and realise that I have actually heard people talking about that, but it just did not register at the time in my brain how big this thing is. But can I think of any more examples? No, though there are definitely several things.
I get the train at 0627, at which time the shop is closed, so I thought I would read my book on the train until Reading, buy i at Reading and read that until I get off at Iver. I get to work at 0807, so I imagined I would spend those few minutes before starting work to digest the news. Perhaps it was around this time that I stopped using my lunch break to work whilst eating and started reading BBC News Online. I started to look forward to my lunch break.
With i I found that, in the 35 minute journey from Reading to Iver, I wasn't getting through the whole paper, and that was even skipping the business pages at the back. I think I thought with it being a briefing I could read every single item because they'd be short (and reading everything is surely part of getting a briefing—knowing something about everything that's happening). Several unfinished issues of the paper stacked up and I quickly ditched the whole idea. The problem with the paper is that it does its job, I suppose. It is a briefing, not an in-depth exploration of any topic. That is what it does and that is what I thought I wanted, but the only good article I read in the newspaper was something about porridge. It was a good length, the article, but still it could have been longer.
I used to read The Guardian (well, G2), and I sometimes flirted with newspapers that had particularly interesting-looking issues. A few years ago, in a hotel in an airport, I picked up a free copy of the weekend edition of the Financial Times and that was the beginning of that. It is a very good paper. I buy it for the magazine and the House & Home and Life & Arts sections, though House & Home isn't always worth reading. The Financial Times got me reading newspapers again, after I abandoned The Guardian. I abandoned The Guardian because the papers started to pile up in my bedroom. I suppose I don't do too well keeping up with reading.
Last year I started to become interested in politics. I don't know why but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I listened to a lot of radio coverage, I bought The Independent often. I watched television coverage but didn't really understand much of it. I wrote a little bit on Ideas & Information about a few things (then I started doing some work and my blogging came to an end). I even bought a book (currently buried under... old issues of one paper or another) about politics (for AS level students, but one must start somewhere...)
The student protests passed me by quite easily but somewhere in this non-linear account of things fits in the latest thing in my head. I still want to know what it's all about. I want to know everything about everything. So...
The next stage of my growing political awareness was the March for the Alternative. I had decided some time in February that I was going to go, though for photographic reasons rather than for political reasons. I'm getting more into the idea of photographing people; I also thought I'd like to photograph demonstrations and March for the Alternative would be a good start. Around the same time as this I started to think more seriously about magazines and where I should get my information from. I've never regularly bought any magazine (except Monocle), but I do like magazines very much. I have bought a few different magazines when the issues look interesting. I have bought New Statesman, The Spectator, New Internationalist, and The Economist and I have looked at The Oldie and thought it looks pretty good, but I've never really been interested enough to have bought an issue.
So the newspaper thing wasn't working out for me and I turned to magazines. I suppose I saw magazines as a way to avoid having to keep up with lots of news every single day as well as a way to learn about what is going on in areas of interest for me. The first magazine I bought was Newsweek. I chose it because it has few pages. I thought it would be easy to get through for this reason. Newsweek does definitely cover some good topics. There was an issue about information overload, and its Japan coverage was interesting, I thought, especially the stuff that wasn't really about Japan, like the article about San Francisco being due an earthquake. The magazine feels American, and I don't really like that. I don't like the weblog-style nonsense that's been added in its restyle, the "top ten" bit at the beginning which only reminds me that it's an American magazine and makes it feel foreign to me, and the "culture" bit towards the end. I have since ditched Newsweek because it just wasn't really satisfying anything for me.
As well as Newsweek I started buying New Statesman. I bought Prospect and I bought Standpoint. At one point I thought these four magazines could combine to provide knowledge, and I thought it would work out because it is two monthly magazines and two weekly magazines. I bought both Prospect and Standpoint because they had good articles on the cover. After thinking that it would be a good idea to read something I don't instictively agree with I learned that Standpoint is right-leaning. That made me think even more that I had a good mix of magazines. I thought I should add New Internationalist to the mix, since I do profess to have an interest in the issues they cover. I have bought the magazine before, but I don't really like it. There's just something about it. Still, I did actually seriously think I'd regularly buy it, but I have thrown away this idea after just one issue.
I don't really like Standpoint, either, but it does have a few good articles. I don't really like it because I cannot read such long articles, unfortunately. Also, though I think I should be reading about things I don't really have an interest in just for the sake of knowing about it anyway, I find I can't read the magazine's long articles about, say, the Middle East (or the "Mideast" as Newsweek annoyingly calls it, as though leaving out one syllable makes things so much easier).
What I really liked about having different sources of information is getting different people's opinions on the same thing. For instance, I read two reviews of a film in two different magazines and heard a review on a television programme and I was excited by the (not wildly, but that's not the point) different opinions. If it happens with a film, imagine what can be learned in this way about politics and other important things (and learned about the media).
In New Statesman I read an article written by a man with an arts degree who said it wasn't until he was in his mid-twenties that he realised he should be reading about science. He put forward the point that when it comes to science people happily talk of what is "common sense". Since science is about proving things one way or the other, it's not enough to have beliefs and perpetuate things based on what seems obvious. So when I read this man's article what happened to him happened to me—I, mid-twenties, art degree, realised that I know nothing about science. I have never bought a book about science and I have rarely bought a science journal. It doesn't seem good enough, so I thought to New Statesman, Newsweek, Prospect, Standpoint and New Internationalist I would read a science journal. I wanted something accessible, something that isn't necessarily for scientists, but not something reductive. I didn't ever get round to choosing one. I thought about New Scientist but, as I remember, that magazine has a lot of jobs advertised in it, taking up the last few pages of it.
At work, for work purposes, I visit the Earthscan website almost every day. Earthscan is an "English-language publisher of books on environmental and sustainable development topics and issues". The last book I read was What Should I Do With My Life? by Po Bronson. In that book are a lot of accounts of people who have made the decision to change what they do for work. One man taught himself about diving by reading everything there was in the library on different aspects of diving. Earthscan has put together, from its titles, "curricula for the 21st century". So far they have two, with the sustainable development curriculum being the most detailed. It has pre-course reading and then nine modules. Each module has the core textbooks and further reading.
I realised how fantastic this idea is and I made a list of things I thought I ought to and would like to learn about. The list didn't actually get that far, not as far as I imagined it would. I imagined a list of things that could be grouped together and a short reading list put together, starting with something easy and introductory. Some of the things on the list are geopolitics; genocide; the slave trade; gender; Marxism; and feminism.
I made a list of 100 books. It could have been longer and was supposed to be a starting point from which to make an edited, structured reading list for each of these subjects.
Next, I started to pay more attention to Laurie Penny and I started to discover a lot of websites including Open Democracy and a few blogs, and that is where things started to become more complicated for me.
Two things: I had orginally dismissed individual people's weblogs sources of information; and I noticed that the websites of magazines often have a lot of content, sometimes articles that are only available online and need no subscription to access. Why pay for Standpoint for the few articles I actually want to read when I could probably read them online? (Because I like magazines, of course, and because I don't want to stare at a computer monitor if I'm not at work.) One more thing: I started to wonder if some kind of electronic reader would be ideal for reading all these articles I want to read so that I don't go through loads of paper. I really don't like them; I like paper, not this strange "carry your library around with you" thing, this thing that people think is so great because they can read two books at the same time. I like paper. I love books and magazines! I honestly think it is not a person who loves books that will buy such a product. But, saying that, it could be useful if you can transfer PDFs to it. I am half-heartedly considering an e-reader or a tablet computer for the usefulness of being able to read things from the world-wide web in a book kind of way.
I am still not too sure about reading the weblogs of individuals, but I have come across a few that I think would be worth checking every now and then. I have made the decision that New Statesman is the only magazine I am going to buy, along with the monthly Prospect (still unsure about Standpoint, but it could probably go), and I will read a lot of things from the world-wide web. Speaking of which...
I'm unsure exactly how I came to be checking Laurie Penny's twitter every day, but Laurie Penny, twitter and this so-called revolution have introduced yet more possible sources of information. Twitter has been useful in the Middle East, I understand. I also understand how it is useful over here. It is a way to disseminate information and a way to get things out there almost as soon as they happen. The problem with that is that it can take a person off in many directions. That is indeed a problem for me since I want to read many books (I've provisionally given myself two weeks for a book; currently I am reading Greed and that two weeks is going to turn into three) and I want to explore the idea of the Open Democracy and New Statesman websites being my main online sources of information as well as read New Statesman every week and Prospect every month and read the occasional weblog. It is a problem because I want to stay informed; something is obviously happening and I want the knowledge to be able to think things through and form my own ideas. <!--write on being apart; photography--> It is a problem because I now see the possibility of information overload; I can't possibly read every interesting thing out there, as much as I'd like to, and even if I had enough time to, when would I have the time to process it all? But, at the same time, if I really am that interested in what UK Uncut, for example, is doing, I do need to be online and I do need to follow them because it's hardly going to be reported in whatever magazine I read; immediacy is both convenient and an annoying barrage.
The interconnected unfinished circles of thoughts seem to have come to an abrupt and unfinished end. Suddenly I am thinking it is obvious that I can exclude twitter (but can I? How much will I miss if I do? How much will I miss if I don't, though?) and stick with the two magazines and two websites and occasional articles written by whoever is interesting at the moment. But I still haven't said the one thing that was formative in this whole reading list and information consumption journey. I wanted to know what I think. I wanted to be able to form my own ideas by knowing something of what has gone before me and by knowing how to argue. That was the whole point. I wanted to read a book of nonsense, feel that I disagreed with it, not know why, seek something else on the topic and begin to know why I thought the first book was nonsense; I wanted to start to know who I am and what I think, and I recognised that I can't just form an opinion out of nothing and how else do people come to know things? They are not born with knowledge, so I must be able to do what they have done, which I assume is reading and thinking.