Rebooting is a biweekly newsletter about how we can use technology to take better care of ourselves.
My struggles with focus certainly started far earlier than my seventh-grade ADHD diagnosis, but I didn’t face the worst of their inhibition until my junior year of college.
After failing the first exam of my atmospheric sciences gen-ed class due to a bad case of “I ordered the wrong textbook,” my much-smarter-than-me sister—also my classmate—helped me study. Thanks to her, I got an A on the second exam, and rode that high through the next chunk of lessons. When it was time for the third exam, I strutted into class ready to absolutely crush it. If you’d judged me by the way my face celebrated being the first to hand in my test, you’d think I was on a winning streak. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.
While I’d like the records to show that I did in fact brush up on various cloud formations and the forces that affect air motion, the big red “40%” atop my exam would suggest otherwise. As is customary for me, I’d found an even worse way to sabotage my GPA than not studying. I heard the advice at least a dozen times that if you’re taking too long to answer a question on a test, leave it blank and go back to it. When I was told the same thing in counseling for my ADHD, I decided to put it into practice for real.
Bummer for me, though, because the whole second page was really hard, so I wrote “COME BACK” in big letters at the top. This, like my grade, was circled in big red marker. I did not, in fact, come back.
That was eight years ago, and I’ve since learned that I can’t rely on benevolent professors and forgiving friends to get by when I space out on things that are important to me. “Aw shucks, I forgot,” only goes so far. My favorite todo list app, Things, has helped me break that habit and stay consistent, but it can’t really help with what’s become an increasing shame in quarantine: my growing Pocket queue.
Much like my neglected “COME BACK” note on that dreadful exam, my Pocket queue is an archive of articles I kid myself into thinking I’ll read when I’m not too busy. This handy bookmarking app sits on my home screen, staring at me, waiting for someone to draw a big red circle around it. I’ve been using it for years, and honestly the number of articles in my backlog is embarrassingly high, so I will not be sharing it at this time.
For a long time, just seeing a growing stream of hot takes and longform reporting felt like too much to take in, and I’d usually just bounce back to Twitter or Instagram instead. I was about ready to declare Pocket bankruptcy, but over the past month, I’ve finally figured out a way to churn through my stack of articles, little by little.
As much as I’d like it to be, my phone isn’t a great place for me to try to read long articles and really digest them—I’m too much of a habitual app switcher. In its place, I’ve started feeding my Pocket articles to my Kindle in a daily digest format to slowly read my way through my ever-growing queue. There’s no way to natively send articles to your Kindle from Pocket (Instapaper’s premium version has it), but Pocket 2 Kindle is a freemium web service that lets you build customizable digests of articles you’ve saved in Pocket.
Here’s how it works: you give Pocket2Kindle your Kindle’s email address, which you can find here, and create a digest with a set number of articles you’d like to be sent in each issue, and how frequently you’d like them sent over. Then, as long as your Kindle’s connected to the internet, it’ll automatically download at your preset time. You can have them sent by what you’ve saved latest, or randomly if you’re feeling dangerous.
I don’t really have a lot going on right now, so I’ve set up a daily digest of my five most recently saved articles that downloads before I’m awake. This way, even if I don’t get to it that day, the list is still short enough that it won’t take me too long to catch up. I also have a separate digest that I get every Sunday morning with ten (20 proved to be too much) random articles, which keeps me away from focusing too much on the news cycle and lets me enjoy a nice profile or two. Every time an article gets added to a digest, I have P2K archive that article so my feed actually gets whittled down. If I like the article, there’s an option at the end of each one that lets me favorite it, so I can still keep my favorite ones separate within Pocket.
The best part about this setup? You don’t have to read every article that gets sent your way. The political think pieces from the last election and reviews for now-outdated products probably aren’t worth reading at this point, so you can just flip past them and let them sit in the archive, out of sight and out of mind.
Unless you pay for the premium tier ($3/month), you’ll only be able to set up one recurring delivery, but that should be fine for most people. Other than that, you won’t be missing out on too many key features, and you can always reconfigure your digests if you want to dial it down a bit.
The hand that feeds
As much as I’d like to rid myself of an article queue forever, great writers continue to write great things, and I’d very much like to keep reading them. I still get a lot of my news from Twitter, but I’ve been trying to dial that back a bit in favor of a more curated, less commentary-driven feed.
RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a system of web feeds you can string together into a Twitter-like stream of all your favorite news sites, blogs, and in some cases, newsletters. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can even hack together a way to pull in Twitter and Youtube feeds. In most modern RSS readers, the web pages will be stripped of everything but the article’s text and images, so you can get a focused reading experience on your phone if that’s your preference. Either way, RSS is a handy way to keep current on the world’s goings-on without succumbing to the worst parts of doomscrolling.
To get started, you’ll need to pick an RSS reader to plug all your feeds into. Feedly is one of the standards, and its free tier packs most of the features you could ask for, but I prefer Inoreader. Its free plan lets you subscribe to 150 feeds, highlight keywords in your feed if you’re on the lookout for something in particular, save to Pocket or other web services, and even playback podcasts within the app. The paid tiers give you a bit more flexibility with features like newsletter subscriptions (which I’d been using before switching my email to HEY and using its Feed section for reading), filtering unwanted things out of your feed with keywords, or following sites without RSS feeds (NYMag and Reuters I am begging you). Some of these features can be mimicked using free sites like RSS.app, which generates RSS feeds for subreddits, Twitter or Youtube accounts, and even Pinterest. Don’t get too carried away, though; the delight of using RSS is whittling down your feed into strictly the sources you know you’ll want to read stuff from, and picking from there.
Within Inoreader, you can subscribe to publications based on their topic or title if you know what you’re looking for. From there, you can place them all into separate folders based on topic, or anything else that makes sense to you, so they’ll show up in separate feeds. This is great if you need to stay current on something like finance news for work, but don’t want that clogging up your gossip news time.
Inoreader’s stock app is fine, but it doesn’t really allow for much customization, and it’s not as nice to look at as third-party options. Regardless of what RSS reader you use, and there are plenty to choose from, picking out the right app will make getting through your news a more enjoyable process. I’ve tested out most of the big ones on iOS, and there really isn’t one that’ll be best for most people, but Fiery Feeds is a great option for power users and Unread is the nicest to look at. As for Android users, I can’t be of much help, but Plenary is pretty nice looking and seems to have a good balance of features.
One of the bummers about RSS is that many sites only show a preview of the article in RSS feeds. Fiery Feeds can pull the full article from the website, so you won’t have to tap into Safari to read everything. It can also sort articles by how frequently sites publish, and it’ll find links that show up in your feed multiple times, too, if you’re a premium subscriber.
Maybe you don’t need all those nifty tricks just to navigate the daily news cycle, but there’s a particular joy to be found in in creating a feed of pieces from your favorite publications and writers, that’s all yours. Nobody’s there to call you a nerd for reading a 3,000 word look at the legacy of the NES, or ditching the daily news cycle to read a piece or two that’ll make you chuckle. Whatever you choose to read, you can do so free of anxiety-inducing commentary, and rest assured that no matter how hectic or overwhelming your life gets, those articles will be there, ready when you are
📚 Good Reads:
Influencers stopped caring about the pandemic. Here’s why that's so dangerous. (Mashable): It’s been about five months since we’ve all been quarantining and social distancing. It’s exhausting, and many of us just want to hug our friends again. So, it isn’t easy to see your loved ones out and about, as though we aren’t living through an unprecedented pandemic. Sure, you could try yelling at them about the repercussions of not being careful, but your levels of success and tension may vary. You might not be able to change everyone’s minds, least of all Logan Paul’s, but you can still keep that dialogue open with friends who are willing to listen, and keep posting the right examples on your feed. Hopefully the right people are listening.
How Harvard’s star computer-science professor built a distance-learning empire (The New Yorker): The pandemic has changed nearly every facet of our lives, and it’s left us with a lot of questions about how things are going to look in the future. As pressure for schools to reopen has ramped up, the question of how online classes will function looms. While not every college course needs an accompanying merchandise store, David Malan’s CS50 class may offer some insight into how online courses can still offer the same value and accessibility in a time where in-person classes are no longer an option.
YouTube’s psychic wounds (Columbia Journalism Review): You won’t have any trouble finding the darkest parts of YouTube, and if you do, it’ll surely find its way to you eventually. That said, YouTube isn’t all bad. Set aside the right-wing conspiracy theories and parties at the hands of thoughtless influencers, and there’s an endless well of fun, mindless, or informative videos that’ll bring you more joy than a debrief on the deep state. If you ever do find yourself stuck in Conspiracy YouTube (it happens), just loop a playlist of videos you know you’ll enjoy in the background, like the greatest hits of a silly, goofy podcast, and the algorithm will at least try to correct itself.
Who loses big in the great streaming wars? The user (Rolling Stone): In my last issue, I wrote about one way I’ve been trying to avoid the ever-present feeling of not knowing what to watch. I missed a pretty big point, though: our streaming interfaces make it nearly impossible to reliably find something we’ll enjoy. Locations within the apps change, so your “continue watching” list might be ten more taps away than it was last week, or the banners may be twice as large so you can’t get as good a glance at what’s available. When we only had an hour or two per night to give to watching something, this wasn’t as much of an issue. Now that it’s one of our only outlets, the shortcomings of the streaming interface have become much too clear.
🌐 Just Browsing:
🗞️ Need some inspiration for your first few RSS feeds? NYU has a nice list of popular feeds you can check out. 🆒 If you obsess over kerning and pretty text, Fonts In Use is a lovely collection of fonts you can browse by various criteria, like activism, lifestyle, or industrial design. 🎧 Take some time to read up on the history of the mp3 and how it changed the music industry. If you want a deeper look, Stephen Witt’s book on the topic is quite the read. 🗓️ Being a parent is hard enough without a global pandemic going on, but it’s especially important right now for parents to take care of themselves. One idea? Build an “Oh, shit” block into your calendar. 👤 Bookmark this piece for whenever you get a gnarly case of impostor syndrome. Trust me. 🎤 If you’ve missed Ziwe’s Instagram interviews, stop what you’re doing and go catch up. Then, read this excellent profile of her by E. Alex Jung in Vulture. 📑 Need a hand in managing your backlog of Kindle highlights? This app will let you export each highlight in your Kindle as a separate note. Heads up: the free tier gives you a limited number of clips. 🚙 Thinking of moving during a pandemic? Here’s what you need to know. 👾 Tetris and the Game Boy truly were the perfect match. 🍚 Here’s why you should get a rice cooker. ☎️ If you’re more of a texter, try phoning your friends more. 🗺️ Your maps app is your best friend in navigating through the pandemic. 🚨Some tips for how to break the cycle of doomscrolling. 👀 This handy Android app tells you when sneaky apps are trying to access your phone’s microphone or camera. 🗣 Staying in touch with loved ones isn’t easy right now. Make it a bit easier with these tips.
💕 And now, here’s something we hope you’ll really like:
David Lynch Theater: Whether you still think about episode eight of Twin Peaks: The Return at least twice a week, stopped watching the original series when Nadine got superpowers, or have no idea who Judy is and why we’re not gonna talk about her at all, David Lynch’s YouTube channel is a quarantine necessity. His series What is David Working on Today? features updates on his latest DIY projects, often including joyful musings about mundane things like paper towels. I’m a fan of this episode, where he talks about why he’s making his own phone-to-tripod mount, despite having bought one he says works perfectly. Now, I’m just waiting for Wirecutter to review it.
As always, if you have any questions, feedback, or just want to say hello, feel free to drop me a line on Twitter.
My thanks to Medea Giordano for editing this issue.