Curating the Consumables

March 29, 2011

I love to read. My apartment is filled with books, my computer is filled with saved articles and ‘to read’ lists, my web browser is filled with bookmarks for too many amazing news sites and blogs to even begin to list here. There is not much I enjoy more in the world than listening to people talk about the things they’re passionate about, and I could be totally engaged by someone explaining the evolution of the garbage can if it’s apparent that that’s what they really care about in life.

Beyond reading, I also love watching TED talks, for many of the same reasons.

There are also several hundred films in my Netflix queue, all of which are beautiful testaments to their creators’ will to bring life to their pie-in-the-sky ideas, many of which will be enlightening and informative viewing experiences.

There are also some pretty darn good television shows out there (blasphemy for a blog these days, I know). There are brilliant podcasts; musicians creating unique and powerful pieces; museums to go to, plays to attend, and sights to see.

It’s a lot. It’s a ton.

Even discarding the copious amount of crap that is undeniably present in the larger mix, there’s a somewhat unfathomable amount of consumable material in the world. And enough of it is so worthwhile, interesting, and inspirational that you could easily spend all of your life simply devouring it.

And this is where things get a little problematic. Because you can’t experience it all.

I’m never going to see all the TED talks. I may never even get through all the books on my ‘to read’ shelf. Most of those Netflix movies will stay exactly where they are.

Every once in awhile I have to re-recognize this truth, and it happened yet again yesterday, just after I read JD’s Miscellaneous Flotch post on Get Rich Slowly. He linked to some fabulously-interesting sounding articles across the web, and I found myself with three additional tabs open in Firefox after finishing his recommendations. Which only added to the two New Yorker tabs, three New York Times tabs, one for email, and yet another for Google Reader (itself a bit of a rabbit hole) that were already there. All told, I had a good hour and a half of reading ahead of me if I wanted to clear the deck. And not even the whole deck, really — more just the space in my immediate vicinity.

I cannot consume it all, and the attempt to do so is made at the cost of other endeavors I value in life.

An hour and a half of reading means an hour and a half that isn’t spent running or writing or biking or being out in the world establishing new relationships. It can certainly inform these activities and perhaps allow me to execute them better or inspire a new creative direction to pursue, but a balance point must be sought where consumption and creation complement each other, rather than spar for my time and attention.

Ultimately, I think the safer bias to have when seeking this balance point is less consumption and more creation.

It’s hard. It’s hard to have what looks to be an amazing piece right in front of you and close the tab anyway. It’s hard to close a book that just isn’t cutting it (actually I don’t think this is terribly difficult for a lot of people, but it’s definitely something I suffer from — ‘maybe it will pick up next chapter!’). It’s hard to admit that as much as you’d like to read the entire archive of Seth’s Blog, it might be okay to just keep up with his new stuff.

Difficult as it is, there’s also a certain peace about recognizing the futility of the effort and accepting that you have the power to curate your own experience. You aren’t ‘missing out’ on all the amazing things you don’t consume, you’re experiencing all the amazing things you decide are worth your time. You are also giving yourself the gift of enough time and brainspace to do your dearest work.

It’s an active, conscious decision to curate. It doesn’t happen on its own. But once made, it’s an empowering one that will give the gift of time — the scarcest resource.

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