Living a Rhythmed Life (Online): Choosing What We Ingest

Type, type, typing away.

I’ve been looking forward to this short miniseries-within-a-series about living a rhythmed life online.

Mostly that’s because the places I’m called to work are in the online arena. These are my stomping grounds each day and the place I am called to love and serve others, and so I am continually thinking about this and learning what a healthy interaction and rhythm looks like for me in this area.

But I’ve also been looking forward to this part of the series because I know it’s something we’re all learning in the midst of this new internet era. Right? 

So, yesterday we talked about cultivating rhythms of generosity in online spaces, specifically Facebook and Twitter. Today I’d like us to think about being intentional about what we ingest. 

There. Is. Just. So. Much. To. Ingest. 

Isn’t there? 

As I mentioned yesterday, it can get quite overwhelming. And that’s one of the most adverse effects of the internet on our daily lives. There’s such an onslaught of information brought into our awareness at all times, it can totally upend us. (At least, it can upend me.)

It can upend me through the subtlety of distraction.

First I’m doing one thing, like checking my Twitter feed, and suddenly I’ve clicked over to a New York Times article, which leads me to another New York Times article, which leads me to a Google or Wikipedia search, and then I decide to go check Facebook and my email because it’s been about 15 minutes and maybe something new has happened since then, and then suddenly I can’t remember what I was trying to do in the first place.

Crash and burn. Ineffectiveness in total effect.

It can also upend me by disconnecting me from who I am and what I’m here to do.

This connects to what I said yesterday about so many voices clamoring for attention in the online space. On the one hand, the internet is amazing in that it breaks down message barriers and allows each of us to connect to people we would never otherwise be able to meet or reach, and if you’ve got a business or a social cause, that is especially incredible.

But man, it’s like the internet has made the world both vastly huge and microscopically tiny at one and the same time. Now we know everything that’s happening all around the world every second of the day — which not only makes India and Syria and Kenya feel like our next-door neighbors but also makes our minds and hearts practically explode from all the information we learn about what’s happening in all those places. 

It’s hard to hold it all, and it’s especially hard to know what to do with all that information. 

And lastly, the internet can upend me because the voices I hear in that space can affect my interior affect.

If I tune in to snarky, sarcastic banter through the blogs I read or the people I follow on Twitter, I become a bit more sharp-edged too. Or if I choose to ingest too much — subscribe to too many blogs in my feed reader, for instance — I start to feel like I’m constantly behind and a sense of obligation and dread creeps in. I feel pushed to read and read and read, just to catch up. 

And so, we need to be intentional about all this. Don’t you agree?

So, I’m going to lay out for you what living a rhythmed life in the online space has come to mean for me. I’ll tell you what my rhythms and parameters look like, and you may find these to be helpful guidelines for yourself as you work out your own relationship with the internet in your daily life. 

Here goes.

1. It means giving myself clear parameters for my online time.

Sometimes I’m just catching up on Twitter and Facebook for the relational aspect — to see what my friends and family and acquaintances are doing — and so I’m clear within myself that I’m not going to click on a bunch of links to read “extracurricular” material. Sometimes, though, I’m settling in for an hour-long spell of blog reading, so anything that catches my eye to click over and explore (bringing with it the possibility of getting lost in the internet maze) is totally OK. 

What this looks like for me: Usually my relational check-in times happen in the morning, at the end of the work day, and before bed. My open-ended blog-reading and browsing sessions only happen about once or twice a week and usually take place after dinner but before Kirk and I settle in together for the evening.

2. It means unsubscribing from lots of email newsletters.

You know how you buy something once from a company and suddenly end up on some newsletter list? Or how you care about an organization and a cause so you sign up for their email updates?

It’s really easy for me to unsubscribe to those business newsletters, but it’s been tricky for me to navigate the newsletters that come from organizations on causes I care about. I used to care about receiving all those emails, reminded each time I got one that I cared about the work represented by that organization. But I noticed over time that I hardly ever read them — and if I did read them, it was after they sat in my inbox for several weeks and I just wanted them archived already.

In regards to this, I’ve recently re-discovered the amazingness of the “unsubscribe” button. Done!  

What this looks like for me: I don’t sign up for business newsletters when I buy something. If I get added to a random list anyway, I unsubscribe immediately. When getting emails from organizations I support for causes I care about, I wait and see how I respond to the experience of getting the emails. If they sit in my inbox for a while and I only read them it in order to archive them, that means I don’t really want to be on the list — so then I unsubscribe and move on.

3. Unsubscribe from blogs and unfollow Twitter peeps. 

This one’s been historically hard for me. I’ve been reading blogs for about 6 years now, and reading them in a feed reader for about 4 1/2 of those years. There are some bloggers I’ve been following that entire length of time, and I still really love reading their stuff. But there are others, over the course of those years, whose interests slowly diverged from mine, and I read their content with less and less enthusiasm. 

There comes a point periodically where I just have to be real with myself about this and do something about it. And so I go through “spring cleaning” of paring back the subscriptions in my feed reader. I have never regretted this. Instead, it felt like relief. 

Or there could be people I followed on Twitter because I thought I wanted to hear what they have to say. Celebrities and popular bloggers and new people I find because a blogger I like recommended them usually fall into this category. I follow them, but then within a couple weeks — or sometimes a couple months or even a year — I realize I don’t really care what they have to say. Maybe their perspective grazes me, or maybe it pushes me toward becoming a person I don’t really want to become. 

Whatever the reason, I’ve gotten pretty good at tuning in to my interior responses to this and responding accordingly.

What this looks like for me: It’s hard to unsubscribe from blogs I used to love, but interests change and so I periodically do it — especially when I notice that a certain blogger’s posts keep piling up, unread, in my feed reader. It also takes a bit of a “close my eyes and just do it” kind of courage for me to unfollow people on Twitter. If they’re big-name people, I don’t sweat it so much. But when they’re just normal folks, I always feel bad. I just have to remind myself that I only have so much energy and attention to give, and I want to be purposeful about where I give it.

How do you choose what to ingest online? Have you ever needed to set parameters for yourself like this?