When I wake up the first thing I do is check my emails, then open up the Twitter app and, suddenly, I’m lost in a sea of hundreds of articles that I need to read, not to count the ones I didn’t have time to read yesterday and the days before that. Overwhelmed I switch onto Instagram in an attempt to distract myself from the white noise of cultural products I don’t have enough time to consume. That, naturally, only makes me feel more overwhelmed. All this before I’ve even got out of bed. Then, whenever I need to take public transports (every day), I find myself opening up the Podcast app and that’s when I sadly realise how behind I am on the list of episodes I’ve already downloaded, not to count again all the ones I haven’t had any time to look at yet. And let’s not talk about the never-ending list of books I want to read and am still yet to buy.
If you found yourself nodding away whilst reading that paragraph, relating to this feeling, then you might be suffering from cultural overload. One of the first people who talked about cultural overload, Mark Ravenhill, wrote an article about it in The Guardian nearly 20 years ago. Yes, apparently even in the early 2000s they already felt like there was too much art to consume. If we consider that social media, youtube, podcasts and Netflix didn’t exist at the time, you might be wondering what were they even overwhelmed by? In his article Ravenhill talks about “having an art attack” over the number of books he wanted to consume but couldn’t, and that’s how I often feel, like I’m under attack and I’m not prepared to protect myself. Basically, times Ravenhill’s feelings by 10 and that’s how we’re all feeling today.
So it would seem having everything just a click away hasn’t been all positive, yes information is easy to access and we have a vast array of voices at our fingertips which has revolutionised the world’s cultural landscape. But, on a personal level, it has taken the joy out of listening to a new podcast or reading a new article away, because as soon as I’m halfway through my listening party or reading spree I feel a sense of urgency and guilt – like I should have finished already, because at least 50 articles are waiting to be read and 20 episodes have been passive-aggressively staring at me from the download section of my podcast app. But who are we doing this for? Where does this pressure come from? We collectively feel like the expectation to keep up, to be in touch with everything happening in our cultural circle and to have perfectly formulated opinions of what we consume is unattainable – so why let it
This feeling of not being able to keep up stems from our fear of getting caught and called out. We need to stop feeling guilty for admitting that we don’t know what others are talking about or we haven’t watched that programme yet or we haven’t read about a certain thing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with not being up to date with every single thing. Let’s look at it this way: have you ever looked at a friend that admitted to not knowing something that happened recently in the world and thought badly of them? I know I haven’t. Social media fuels the idea that everyone can, should and deserves a voice on everything – this isn’t the case, you don’t need to be an expert on everything because frankly that’s impossible. But I get it, it’s easier said than done, so here are a few practical tips to muddle through the white noise and consume in moderation:
- Books: reading should be a pleasure and not feel like work. Most of us have already done a lot of mandatory reading throughout our education, because of that try not to look at your personal reading list as work. We are all different readers, who have varied tastes and consume at our own pace – so let go of the pressure and do it for yourself (comparison might be your worst enemy). Also, remember that everyone else is feeling the same, and absolutely haven’t finished every book on their shelf.
- Podcasts: to tackle the (in my case huge) amount of audio content you want to consume try not to download any new episode until you’ve listened to what you’ve already downloaded and additionally don’t subscribe to any podcast but manually download each episode, so you don’t end up having a full inbox without even realizing it.
- Articles and blogs: try to reduce the number of publications you follow online (obviously not this one, cause you know it’s great and your support is always appreciated) and if you know of a journalist/blogger you enjoy more follow them individually to keep up with their work.
- Newsletters: clean out your inbox and make a list of the ones you actually want to read and unsubscribe to all the others that you never have time for and that end up cluttering your email inbox. I recommend doing something similar with your youtube subscription box. A great way to get bite-sized chunks of content in your inbox is to subscribe to two or three amazing roundups, that way you get to feel on top of the news but not overwhelmed (we love The Guardian and Emerald Street).
Look at it this way it’s impossible to consume it all and trying to is going to make you very stressed, so is it really worth it? Life is already full of responsibilities let’s not make consuming cultural content a boring and overwhelming task. Stop scrolling in the morning, be picky and make it fun again. Failing that, invest in a time machine.
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