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Did You Hear We Got Osama? (roshfu.com)
524 points by choxi on Feb 17, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 204 comments

It is really, really, really, really, really hard for me to find a good temporary distraction nowadays. The noise is so monotonous, so repetitive, so completely devoid of intellectual stimulation that I go between four websites in a loop looking for something interesting to read.

HN has maybe one article every two hours that pops up to the top that I find worth reading, and maybe half the time worth upvoting. And that's the only good source of noise I have. Everything else is shit.

I don't care about politics. I don't care about the tech scene, or gadgets, or games, or celebrities, or sports, or this quarter's fiscal projections for a multinational corporation. You name a "news" story and I probably would hate to read about it. Even if I want to read it, it has almost no background information or anything more than the re-cutting of a press release with a paragraph describing why the press release was released. Regurgitated stock information with nothing of value.

Here's some choice excerpts from Google News, which I guess is supposed to be some representation of what's happening in journalism today:

  * Microsoft unveils new, more window-like logo for Windows 8
  * Robin Thicke Arrested for Pot Possession
  * The mostly good and sometimes bad Top 10 moments of Tim Wakefield's Red Sox career
  * [John] Glenn worries the US is ceding its space leadership
  * Ohio AG DeWine switches from Romney to Santorum
  * Identity Theft Tops IRS's 2012 "Dirty Dozen" Tax Scams
  * GOP candidates fighting over Michigan
  * Anthony Shadid, New York Times foreign correspondent, dies at 43
  * FDA Still Wary of Diet Pill's Side Effects
I don't want noise, but sometimes I need noise. And when I want it, I want it to be worth while. It seems like nothing on the internet ever is.

Frequency and quality are negatively correlated when it comes to news.

I would recommend Instapaper's curated list of articles, which tend to be long-form and more interesting than most, as well as The Browser ("Writing Worth Reading") for curated quality content. http://www.thebrowser.com

But you're not going to find quality content many times a day, no matter where you look.

Also try the New York Review of Books blog: http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/

I'm sure you're right. There's just not enough people writing to explain random complex subjects to people that don't study that field. And i'm correlating the concept of "news" with interesting information, when news reporting is basically repeating that which happens every single day. Thank you for the link, that may be just what I was looking for.


...... you know the commenter i was replying to linked to that exact website, right?

Many thanks for thebrowser.com. Something similar; http://www.aldaily.com

It almost makes you think creating a successful blog would be easy -- after all, there's so little worth reading. :-)

Creating writing that's thoughtful, attractive, linkable, rewarding, and current is, apparently, a hugely challenging activity that even a billion people only manage to pull off a few times a day.

I remember this site envisioned the idea of realising original content:


Quite how you measure that though... I always liked the idea.

Thanks for a link to thebrowser.com. This is fantastic.

"I don't care about politics. I don't care about the tech scene, or gadgets, or games, or celebrities, or sports, or this quarter's fiscal projections for a multinational corporation."

Then I think you may be on the wrong news site. I'm not saying that to be a jerk, I'm just saying that HN is a community-curated news site where the stories that the majority of users find interesting gets to the top. If you don't fit into that majority then maybe it would be better to find a new site that is more suited to your tastes.

I think you may be confusing HN with Reddit. Then again, so is everyone else.

I suspect you're trolling. But just in case you're not, and the problem really is that you cannot find interesting, educational and/or enlightening material... have you tried:

Random Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random

Ask.Metafilter (with accepted answer): http://ask.metafilter.com/home/answered

Hack a Day: http://hackaday.com/

LifeHacker Top posts: http://lifehacker.com/top/ or http://lifehacker.com/tag/top/index.xml

Wood Gears: http://woodgears.ca/

Cool Tools: http://kk.org/cooltools

I appreciate the attempt but these are examples of what I find uninteresting. Toys, gadgets, household tips and trivia are not the kind of noise I want when trying to optimize for value.

MIT open courseware.

I am not sure what you are looking for specifically, but here are a few ideas:





3 of my top 4 as well! I would add new criterion as well

Make something. Make something, make something, make something! Make. Something. Now. I can't say this enough; the next time you go in a loop, just stop right then and there and make something. Your life will be 1000 times better.

Make something.

Now. Make!

I make things when I have a reason to make something. I've done my time in OSS and bug killing and it's boring and a waste when you don't need the thing you're working on.

I did make something recently, but with my free time and not at work, because basically work didn't feel it was important enough to pay me to make it. So instead of making it at work I look for other noise to fill in the gap when i've been coding for 5 hours and need a break.

But making something for the sake of making? I'm sorry but i'll never be one of those people. (Well, anymore. I have a directory full of 1/4 finished projects as proof of how productive it is to just make stuff for no reason)

You may need special means to get these outside the UK.


I recommend:-





...well, you get the hint. There are very many hours of great quality reporting there.

The BBC's programmes aren't, as far as I'm aware, geoblocked.

I loved Americana... until Radio 4 removed it and replaced it with an interminable panel game featuring four of the usual suspect "comedians" who seem to take up an inordinate amount of the station's airtime.

Now, I go the other way, and listen to a lot of stuff on NPR stations from the US.

The TV stuff tends to be. The radio programmes are not. This is because one needs to pay a license fee in the UK to watch television, which funds the BBC. Listening to the radio is free, however.

In your list of "choice excerpts," an obituary for Anthony Shadid, one of the greats in journalism. He won 2 Pulitzer prizes and a bullet in the shoulder for his coverage of the Middle East over the last decade. Go read his obit and some of his old work.

There's lots of great journalism out there, and I mostly don't see anything wrong with that list you have there. Maybe little of interest to you, but all still news.

You could start playing games online. I like to play Carcassonne on Brettspielwelt, but presumably chess or Go would work, too. Give you a 30 minute break.

I personally play a few rounds of web boggle (http://www.wordsplay.net/). (not affiliated)

I like www.longform.org.

"It is really, really, really, really, really hard for me to find a good temporary distraction nowadays."

You sound like a typical bored teenager, with too much time on their hands, wearing their boredom as a nihilistic badge of honor, expecting everyone to entertain them, while simultaneously acting as if they know everything, thereby supposedly being superior to the entertainers. If you can't find anything good to read, then use your apparently copious time to write something which you would want to read, and then anyone who responds positively to it will probably be someone like you. Find enough of these people, and you'll have created a self-entertaining community. Hackers build solutions.

Yes. I am 16. I stay home from school because learning civics and history and math and science are super boring, so in between sessions of wallhacking on legacy counter-strike servers I refresh a startup tech news site looking for intellectually stimulating articles.

You're right. I do know everything. Everything except how best to use my time when I occasionally want to waste it broadening my horizon with unusual and interesting information. I typically walk around the house in underroos bragging about how bored I am. Then I zone out to American Idol.

I'm not sure what kind of parallel universe I'd have to exist in where writing about things I don't know anything about is possible, but once I find that reality, by golly I'll take your suggestion to heart.

Hackers really are the Thomas Edisons of our time. Extremely productive in everything they do and never piddling away on something just out of intellectual curiosity. Hackers only seem to create practical solutions to the big problems facing the world today. I'm so glad every college graduate who's just landed his first job writing JavaScript for a start-up can refer to themselves with such a prestigious title. And with so much credibility!

What I don't understand about your comment is that you seem to believe that nobody ever gets bored at work or needs a break from a grind of meetings, coding, red tape, conference calls, etc. I envy your steadfast dedication. I, however, do actually need a break once in a while and enjoy reading about things that are interesting and new to me, or just enlightening in some fashion. Forgive me for crying about it into a thread about distraction.

10 out of 10 for the put down but seriously between libraries, a kindle and google you have access (mostly free) to virtually the sum total of human knowledge. There is lots of stuff out there that will distract you and feed your brain, you're just going to have to cycle through more than 4 sites to get it.

Yes. I am 16. I stay home from school because learning civics and history and math and science are super boring, so in between sessions of wallhacking on legacy counter-strike servers I refresh a startup tech news site looking for intellectually stimulating articles.

No, they are pretty interesting. The teachers are boring, may be. History? The civil war? The Isreali-Palestini conflict? The poverty in the world? Water distribution in the world?

Go and look for the interesting parts. There are lot of interesting stuff in the world, apart from the tech scene. I wish I spent more time when I was your age reading about politics.

That was a sarcastic rebuttal, the author of that post is not really 16.

If you want real intellectual stimulation, go to a university. Seriously. There are some super interesting things going on at universities, but you have to take some initiative to find them.

Sit in on some classes, check out the university library, find some clubs that seem interesting and hang out at their meetings, talk to professors and students -- maybe even get involved in some of the projects happening there. You'll get a lot out of this, I guarantee it. I can recommend this to people who've already attended universities too. Many of them could use some intellectual stimulation.

Heh. Good stuff.

I tend to agree. If you're having trouble finding good content in the age of endless content, well, that's an opportunity.

Hell, I could read Wikipedia for 8 hours a day and not get bored.

Interesting aside, I read "... a typical bored engineer..." the first time, which also worked.

I read the same thing the first time, which indicates to me that it originally said that, but OP didn't find it condescending enough.

Yeah, he should just start a magazine about the stuff he is interested in. That's when I did when I was a bored 22 year old :-)

Boom, boredom problem solved, plus nice contact network from all the cool folks I contacted and got to write something.

This is a topic that I've thought some on in that my company is in the recommendations space, and some thoughts on what make news recommendations difficult:

The function of news is to facilitate smalltalk.

I am reasonably convinced of this. News, as such, is mostly just something that you're supposed to have read so that you can get by in usual social interactions. What we read (and are supposed to have read) is very tied to our place in the social hierarchy. Most folks don't actually want news to be too personalized because then it loses its social function.

I stopped reading the news at one point -- for a couple years -- because of its persistent lack of depth. I realized that reading 100 BBC articles on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would leave me knowing virtually nothing about it, other than some factoids, whereas the same time spent reading books would be worthwhile.

There's an interesting problem to be solved here -- one that's been on my mental back-burner for a while. I'm not sure if Pandora's box can be resealed and we can work our way back to mediums with more depth and less distraction, but I both hope we can, and have much interest in the mechanism for such.

"The function of news is to facilitate smalltalk."

I've heard there are studies that confirm this (sorry, no citation handy), and I've also heard it said that Yahoo! Mail's success was due in part to their recognition of this fact. Put news next to email and you reduce the friction of social interaction.

Edit: The Habermas Thesis. http://hpronline.org/specialty-blogs/hprgument-blog/why-both...

Why is there not a service that tracks news stories and algorithmically relates them into the narrative of history, driven by the singular question of "why?"? Something in between google news and quora/stack exchange (anonymized to avoid embarrassment of dumb questions like "what are Israel and Palestine fighting over anyway?" but with a points/voting system to propagate quality answers.) Whoever makes this, please Tell HN so I can sign up for your beta.

I am working on this very thing, and in fact it's called Whybase (http://whybase.com).

Got invites for HNers?

Hi Will. Sure, you can use the standard invite form on the home page now, and we'll post a special HN sign-up form when we make the official announcement in the upcoming months.

I guess a lot of us are curious too.

only on HN

You can kind of use Wikipedia like this.

It would be nice though if all content had an audit trail, which you could trace through to the original sources. Could be quite enlightening.

You underestimate the importance of smalltalk. Gossip is the cornerstone of a moral society, moreso than laws. Gossip forms reputations, and reputations determine who we trust. News is just gossip in the large. Solve the reputation problem, and you solve the gossip problem.

> Solve the reputation problem, and you solve the gossip problem.

I agree - this is the key! I've been really thinking hard about the whole reputation problem. In a way, Google found a way to solve reputation problem on the Internet for website, and therefore their tremendous success. Would equivalent method work on people - just give reputation points by Citation (or Followers, as Klout is trying to do)? I don't think that's enough - plus my feeling is that there are bunch of dimensions to a Reputation. And on top of all that - we haven't even solved Identity issue on the Net yet.

I would tend to disagree. I am an avid reader of history, and having read news about world events and then read books about them, I would say that books usually have an agenda. Even if they are unbiased, you are still at the mercy of somebody else to make an opinion for you. While my greatest joy of reading a new thing is how it adds to or reinforces my mental model of an event.

> Most folks don't actually want news to be too personalized because then it loses its social function.

When Techmeme first started I had a conversation about this with Gabe Rivera - the founder of the site. He realized early on that he had to steer away from personalization because a large part of the attraction to Techmeme was the readers all referring to stories featured on it -for eg. 'did you see this on Techmeme'.

It facilitates conversations within the group of people that read the site as they are all literally reading off the same page. Apparently The Druge Report realized this early on as well which is why they go with one major story per day (or did).

When you are part of an industry or group you want to, or need to, know what everybody else is reading so you can 'keep up' and be 'in the loop'. In silicon valley tech is it Techememe (and HN) and in politics it is Druge, etc.

The media narrative of how the world is supposed to work just doesn't match the reality. This is why most news is useless. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a great example of this.

You can still get this social interaction without having to follow every piece of news that comes out. Just spend some time reading a more in depth summary of something up till this point. Then when something new happens let the person you are talking to fill you in and use your overview of the subject to fit in the new piece of information and give some opinion on the whole thing.

There's the function of the news in practice and there's the function of the news in theory. I don't do very well making political small talk because I get very angry about it. Nonetheless, I believe it is my duty to be informed about political goings-on since I am a citizen of a democracy where the people are sovereign and I participate in the political process. You can make all kinds of arguments about why this is bogus in reality (both political parties are the same, news is just about the horse race, etc), but I still feel that very strongly.

Reading How to do X better articles, on the other hand, not so much.

> The function of news is to facilitate smalltalk.

Case in point: I visit hacker news for the comments.

not only some factoids but a lot of disinformation as well, especially if the subject is contentious. Most of the news establishment is about either keeping you away from real issues or brainwashing you to their tune.

I stopped reading the news at one point -- for a couple years -- because of its persistent lack of depth. I realized that reading 100 BBC articles on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would leave me knowing virtually nothing about it, other than some factoids, whereas the same time spent reading books would be worthwhile.

Not to mention that you would have read 100 articles from a single source that is a government-controlled channel of information from a country that is partly responsible for starting the Israeli-Palestinian mess in the first place.

There's so much wrong with this that it's hard to know where to start. The BBC is pretty much the gold standard for un-biased reporting, regularly taking the government to task on issues of the day. As John Humphreys said to a minister once before interviewing him, "I'm not here to make you look like an idiot, but if you choose to, I won't stop you".

It even takes itself to task hugely, as shown recently when a BBC reporter was destroyed in an interview about how much better the Sky and iTV coverage was than the BBC during the capture of Tripoli, by another BBC journalist live on air.

Impartiality and being un-biased are different things.

The BBC is pretty much the gold standard for un-biased reporting, regularly taking the government to task on issues of the day.

It's only the "gold standard" for mainstream sources, which is not saying much. For people shopping for more accurate information elsewhere, it's nothing to write home about. Would you take your technical reporting from the BBC? Well, I wouldn't take my world affair's reporting either.

That said, I have worked with the BBC several times in the past (and other outlets, as a stringer). No mainstream coverage is accurate, and a lot are just used to justify a point the reporter has already made. Don't be fooled by spectacles like a BBC journalist "destroying" another BBC journalist on air.

Reminds me of the classic Sherlock Holmes quote:

"His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

“You appear to be astonished,” he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. “Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.”

“To forget it!”

“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

“But the Solar System!” I protested.

“What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently; “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

I love that excerpt. The Holmes books were among my favorites growing up, read all of them several times, and that was one of the most memorable exchanges.

I'm a big believer that what is easy to produce (blog posts, daily news articles) is generally less valuable than what is hard to produce (books, journal articles, working code). If you want to fill your 'empty attic' with high-value information, focus on the latter as much as possible.

> I'm a big believer that what is easy to produce (blog posts, daily news articles) is generally less valuable than what is hard to produce (books, journal articles, working code).

I agree with you, especially in light of your "generally" caveat, but taking the lesson from the Holmes quote above... there are contexts in which the easily accessible approach of a blog post is far more valuable than a journal article on the same topic, along with the ability to provide prompt updates when the situation changes.

Context, my dear Watson.

I agree in principle. The link between the "hard-to-produce factor" and the medium (blog vs. paper) is not in my eyes so strong. There's a lot of overlap and I don't think the generalization is that valuable.

One of my favorite quotes as well, but there's some evidence in other stories that Holmes might have been trolling Watson here.


It sounds pretty, but I'm not convinced this is a sound analogy. I think the walls are elastic to some extent. The real limitation on how much you can learn is not storage space, but time spent "moving furniture". You only have so much time to spend learning things, and you have to choose where to allocate it.

It is not sound analogy it is very wrong analogy. Our brains are not attics and neither they are computers.

Great allegory except Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was not a neuroscientist, so there isn't actually any evidence to back up that theory.

I don't really think his qualifications have much of a bearing on that - you could easily think of knowledge as a function of time and effort, which are certainly limited and finite resources for everyone, so the analogy still holds.

Or you can look at it as an interconnected pathways, and that the more different stuff you learn the more efficient your brain is.

I subscribe to this as well, but I still think Doyle has a point. Sherlock wasn't talking about neural biology, but about the structure of the conscious mind. In practice, the advantage of an "efficient brain" might not be very important compared to having focus in one' thinking.

In other words, the problem is not that we have too many pathways in the brain, rather that we spend too many cycles traveling down redundant ones. Let this allegory warn us to accept the scarcity of attention.

The more efficient it is, but as an economist, I'd say those are two different things.

Your efficiency per unit resource may increase, but your total resources are still finite. Therefore, unless your efficiency increases asymptotically fast enough that the integral diverges (ie, infinite area), your total end product will still be finite. And I have a hard time believing that efficiency would increase that quickly.

Okay, I'll stop being pedantic now.

One should not take this quote seriously. Doyle was not hoping his Holmes should be a model for anyone to follow. He is some kind of anti-humanist. I see Holmes stories as some kind of exercice de style, and in real life the reasoning part of a detective work is anecdotal, I believe the real good detective is the one who can put himself in the brain of his prey, see Maigret for example.

TLDR: BS! Reading good books unrelated to your main work is more necessary than ever. And that'a why closing the pipes of the noise is a good idea.

And more recently: "Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain." -- Homer Simpson

Who is Homer Simpson?

As knowledge, it has little value. But on a signalling basis, it has tremendous value. Not unlike a college degree.

I was thinking the exact same thing. Great quote!

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: A Study in Scarlet.

John Irving nailed it in A Prayer for Owen Meany:

"Newspapers are a bad habit, the reading equivalent of junk food. What happens to me is that I seize upon an issue in the news—the issue is the moral/philosophical, political/intellectual equivalent of a cheeseburger with everything on it; but for the duration of my interest in it, all my other interests are consumed by it, and whatever appetites and capacities I may have had for detachment and reflection are suddenly subordinate to this cheeseburger in my life! I offer this as self-criticism; but what it means to be "political" is that you welcome these obsessions with cheeseburgers—at great cost to the rest of your life."

Most of what's in a newspaper is junk food, but there are very worthy parts: I find columns in NYT by Krugman, Brooks and Douthat to be thought-provoking even if I don't agree. And I find feature pieces of social or economic trends to be enlightening and helpful in terms of understanding people and the workings of our world.

You might not find such understanding of people and of the world to be worthy goal in itself, but even so such an understanding is useful as a framing device or an anology store for general reasonsing. In the same way that a mastery of philosophy has value as a reasoning device.

And, there is the value as source of inspiration: pointers towards topics to read up on or ideas to incorporate into one's life/work

I think what Irving was going for was less about news being worthless in the sense of the content being garbage, but rather that the distractions introduced into ones life by caring about national/world affairs of which we as individuals have little impact come at a great cost to our reserve of emotional energy.

That said... I work in politics.

Great quote. Two thoughts. One, i hope irving was referring to the medioocre tabloids as opposed to real papers. I've had the opportunity to attend some of the social functions for pulitzer judges in the past and they get some really quality content. Second, that cheesburger metaphor is hilarious in today's context of lolcat memes/speak/etc

I think 99.99% of news in all papers, tabloid or not, falls under that quote.

Unless your job is to directly action the news (e.g. if you're a trader, in which case I hope you have better sources than newspapers), "news" makes zero difference to your life, no matter how greatly written it might be. This is true of all papers, not just tabloids.

Well put. My only counterpoint: sure, if you want to be 100% productive 100% of the time, don't succumb to distractions.

If you see coworkers chatting over a coffee, do you think, "wow, they're being totally unproductive. They don't need those coffees, they should be working!"? Of course not.

Consuming _and discussing_ news is a social activity. If your life is your work and nothing else, you'd be a very boring person.

Consuming information by choice allows us to express ourselves later with our opinions. Everyone should make an effort to learn about their surroundings to be an informed, contributing member of a democratic society. People say politicians are out of touch, but compared to a lot of Americans who willingly cut off their exposure to news, are they really?

It's actually funny reading your post, because you sound exactly like me when I was your age. As you get older, I think you'll learn to appreciate relationships with people more. The 18+ hour startup days lose their appeal.

Consuming information by choice allows us to express ourselves later with our opinions. Everyone should make an effort to learn about their surroundings to be an informed, contributing member of a democratic society. People say politicians are out of touch, but compared to a lot of Americans who willingly cut off their exposure to news, are they really?

If you are not an expert on a political issue. You are uninformed, period. You don't have time to write papers, do extensive research, email scientists. The reality of being humans is that we don't know most of everything and we can't. We specialize, not have uber intelligent men decide the fate of humanity.

This is the problem with politics. It's not that we are stupid, it's just that our brain can't store and think through the vast amount of knowledge needed to decide on multiple complex issues. To believe that we can build our society with informed voters in democracies is extremely naive.

"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

- Sir Winston Churchill

"the best argument against democracy is a ten minute conversation with the average voter" - reportedly Churchill as well

Fortunately, most of the time voters choosing "representatives". As human creatures, we do tend to be better (yet far from optimal) at recognizing worthy people to follow.

Yeah, that's the point. Democracy sucks. But what's the alternative?

I was wondering just that a few weeks ago. I found this perspective interesting to think about, even if it's impractical... http://www.see.org/garcia/e02.htm

Lichtenstein, Singapore. Consumer capitalism is not tied to democracy. And it is consumer capitalism that is raising the world's desperate out of subsistence.

Democracy is a luxury good that rich nations purchase.

Appoint experts and practice Science?

> To believe that we can build our society with informed voters in democracies is extremely naive.

To believe we can do anything else is the road back to Dachau.

These are the stakes: http://www.archive.org/details/nazi_concentration_camps

> To believe that we can build our society with informed voters in democracies is extremely naive.

To believe we can do anything else is the road back to Dachau.

>To believe we can do anything else is the road back to Dachau.

I am arguing that democracies can't work due to the impossibility of having informed voters by the way our democracies are organized. The first step to the road of better governance is acknowledging human limitation and nature.

> I am arguing that democracies can't work due to the impossibility of having informed voters by the way our democracies are organized.

And I am arguing that undemocratic forms of government have been tried repeatedly and found wanting repeatedly.

That's argument from ignorance. Just because we doesn't know a better solution doesn't mean there aren't any. Hackers build solutions. And as the above poster said, the first step to start building better practical solutions is to acknowledge the limitations of the resources and tools at our disposal.

There are very many different ways to do "democracy" though, it's not just the one axis with more democratic or less.

Yes, and the US is a federal republic, with a very specific electoral system to boot...so many other types of democracy exist before we get to non-democracy lol

I don't think your point is at odds with the OP. Even though the OP essentially advocates cutting out all new sources from your life at the end of the article, the real point of the article is to disabuse you of the illusion that these news sources are contributing to your productivity. So, if you want to keep up with the news so you can participate in water cooler discussions and build your social network[1], that's fine. But if you are spending large fractions of your time reading news because you think it will somehow improve your productivity, or even make you more informed, you're fooling yourself.

[1] I mean your actual social network, in the sense we all used that term before Facebook came along.

I think the OP was saying: try cutting out noise, see what a difference it makes. Then you can better decide what news is worthwhile.

haha, that's fascinating -- I can appreciate that some perspectives don't form correctly until you're older.

i'd like to mention that i wasn't really writing this from the perspective of productivity. i think it's a wellness thing to fade out noise.

Gotcha; I definitely hear where you're coming from and admit my lifestyle could use an audit in this regard.

My first step was keeping my iPhone out of the bed room :)

If you work in a tech startup, obviously you don't have to read every political story but I believe you absolutely should be aware about the Path situation, Kickstarter, and all other trends and most companies in our industry.

If you're not aware of these things, your boss is, and they are going to ask you to implement a screen that informs the user you are uploading their address book. If you've seen a large breadth of products and companies like Kickstarter, you will easily pick up on macro trends like UI/UX paradigms and significant technologies.

If you had some sophisticated filtering like a user has in another popular HN post today to get rid of things you don't like, you might miss out on trends like NoSQL or Node or Redis or Clojure, or you might upload a user's address book without permission and get caught.

If you are not up-to-date with your industry, I think in reality you will always be an employee of or a laggard to the person who knows about those things.

I think the author's is people make mistakes way too much more on the other end of the spectrum where they read news while deceiving themselves into thinking it's a productive activity. I know I'm guilty.

It might be worth it to push the boundaries in the other direction until you get too little information and miss out. You might be surprised how far that boundary is. It was certainly true in the author's case. Until you try, you don't know and you won't be able to calibrate your system correctly.

> you absolutely should be aware about the Path situation, Kickstarter, and all other trends and most companies in our industry.

I don't think so. The Path situation is a problem precisely because we know that it is a wrong thing to do. So if you haven't heard of it you would probably decide not to do it like them.

I would even argue that this is actually the stuff you should ignore. The latest Sillicon Valley affairs, bloggers bickering between each other and so on. That's not even news, that's more like celebrity gossip.

The articles that I appreciate the most on HN are about how somebody has done something (which I perhaps thought of doing myself) and writes up precisely how.

Wow. This really hit me in the face. This is exactly my situation, my issues right now (and I am also a college/university freshman). I am spending so much time consuming information that I am behind on essentially everything I should and could be doing. I think I needed to read this.

"What followed were the most productive three years of my life."

It's become an addiction for sure, but I have had enough. Seeing someone else with the exact same issue, stating the above about productive years, is inspiring. I'm done, it's time to do things, get my life back on track. I don't need to know "everything", and I shouldn't try to build my world around that.

Thank you for making me realize it.

You sound like me 3 years ago. I used to go into zombie-mode for long periods of time just reading every single link on Reddit, Google Reader, random news sites, etc. and afterwards I'd hardly be able to remember any of it. I still do this on occasion, but it's much less of a problem now. I had to take a tough approach with myself to build some better habits, but it worked.

I decided was that if I was going to take the time to read something, I would get something out of it. I would only read things that were genuinely useful, interesting, or valuable in some way. I had to come up with a way to force myself to think about what I was reading a little, so I kept a text file on my desktop with a record of every single article I had read. I started with just copying the URL and writing a 1-3 sentence summary, and even this was enough to make me think twice before opening links - "Is this article worth the effort to think about it enough to write a summary?" That was still pretty quick, so I added two more requirements- a 1-3 sentence critique of the article- just what I thought about it, whether I thought the author was incorrect/lying/exaggerating, etc. - and something interesting in the article- the kind of thing I might bring up if I was telling somebody about it.

Writing these things for every article started to feel a little like English class, but it worked. I got in the habit of pausing to think about whether I should click a link or continue reading, I started reading closely and critically, rather than just skimming half of it and moving on, I started paying attention to which news sites, blogs, and domains had worthwhile content and which had garbage, and most importantly, I would actually remember what I had read, and could talk or think intelligibly about it. Also, even though I was only 'requiring' myself to write a few sentences about each article, I found that I often didn't mind writing more, and trying to put some simple structure into my written thoughts would lead to new insights.

I've stopped regularly keeping the journal, but the habit of thinking about what I'm doing while surfing sites like HN has stayed with me.

I've been thinking about this since I read the blog post, and it might be time to take it up another notch. Instead of focusing on important articles, maybe I should focus on important topics, and do more of my own research, rather than just reading whatever comes up here. For example, I might read an article here about weird Javascript tricks, find the topic interesting, then read whatever I can find about the Javascript type system, closures, prototype-based programming, until I feel that I have a solid understanding of the topic, or my interest has been satiated. Maybe this takes a few days and I skip HN entirely in the meantime.

I think some people probably do this naturally but I've found that I tend toward zombie-mode.

Fantastic idea!

I've recently taken to discarding my bookmarks and relying on other methods to save interesting links. If I want to save something for later use, I'll tweet about it, write a tiny blog post about it, or jot it down in a notebook. I'm not terribly diligent about it, but it's made a huge impact towards helping me filter what is truly important.

This is a wonderful idea that I've had before, but never got around to trying. I think I'll start now! If only it wasn't such a pain on the iPad -- or maybe that's an advantage.

I do something similar with adding a description of what I have read on Pinboard. It makes you think about what you have read and in turn read less.

You certainly aren't alone!

Perhaps we sometimes expect too much. You don't listen to music to remember the lyrics, you just enjoy it. And you can enjoy and discard a piece of writing too.

You can easily idle away time. Right now I'm procrastinating.

this is awesome! had to read through a lot of comments to get here, but power to you, man!

How do you responsibly participate in a democracy when you ignore world news?

For example, how can you judge two presidential candidates' positions on foreign policy when you don't know what other nations have been up to?

The OP doesn't discriminate between junk news, entertainment news, and knowing what is going on in the world.

Argument #1: Presidential candidates are noise. Unless you live in Ohio or Florida, your vote is foregone. If you want to be a good citizen, your time is probably best spent on convincing your friends to vote in local races. Or doing not-explicitly-political work that contributes to justice, peace and prosperity. A small career choice can do a lot more than the most forceful checkmark on a ballot.

Argument #2: You probably need something like ten kilobytes of information to make a reasonable decision about which presidential candidate to vote for. This is way less than the amount of information that news-oriented people spend their time and attention to absorb on a single day.

(If you want to overkill, on November 1st you could read the election issue of The Economist cover to cover, whatever political posts are on the front page of HN, and the Wikipedia pages for the major issues. Then sit and think carefully for an hour. This would take about five hours, and I’ll bet $1 you’d vote for the same candidate you would have if you’d read five hours of political news per day for the last year.)

"If you want to overkill, on November 1st you could read the election issue of The Economist cover to cover, whatever political posts are on the front page of HN, and the Wikipedia pages for the major issues. Then sit and think carefully for an hour. This would take about five hours, and I’ll bet $1 you’d vote for the same candidate you would have if you’d read five hours of political news per day for the last year."

I think I'm going to use this method - it's an interesting exercise, and it's a great excuse to get people to stop talking to me about bread-and-circuses politics (e.g. what's discussed in this blog post: http://www.tinyrevolution.com/mt/archives/000436.html ).

"Argument #1: Presidential candidates are noise. Unless you live in Ohio or Florida, your vote is foregone. If you want to be a good citizen, your time is probably best spent on convincing your friends to vote in local races. Or doing not-explicitly-political work that contributes to justice, peace and prosperity. A small career choice can do a lot more than the most forceful checkmark on a ballot."

This is an uplifting and encouraging message - and a far better argument in favor of anarchism than torching a Starbucks. Thank you.

>Unless you live in Ohio or Florida, your vote is foregone.

One could make a good argument that this kind of faulty thinking is the reason third party candidates can never get any footing, and also the reason that we get such downright evil people elected.

Your vote is not "foregone" unless you choose not to vote. Period.

Oh? What’s the fault in the thinking?

I think it’s not a problem in the utility equation for an individual voter, it’s a problem in the system. By definition, a vote in a non-swing state is insignificant.

Empirically, a good showing for a third-party candidate has no significant effect on the political discourse, and your individual share of giving that candidate a strong showing is negligible.

Voting in the US is badly broken. I strongly favor equal representation, a multiparty system, and other reforms. Part of getting to them is admitting things like my vote, for one, being foregone.

By definition, a vote in a non-swing state is insignificant.

This is only true in the context of a single election. Over multiple election cycles, small movements in voting patterns can announce the start of a trend. Saying your vote doesn't count is an abdication of responsibility - 'somebody ought to do something about it, but 'they' would never allow it, hurf durf.'

As I said, empirically, those announcements are not important. Look at Perot, Nader, Paul – those votes might have been half an epsilon further from wasted than a vote for Obama or McCain, but they were still vastly less effective than any of a dozen other political actions using equal time and effort. And your importance to any trend is inversely proportional to its importance.

As prodigal_erik points out in a sibling comment, this is a systemic problem with our electoral system. It has nothing to do with hurf durf.

Seriously, saying the median American’s vote doesn’t count is a statistically founded observation, not an ethical action. In terms of ethical actions, I’m advocating for the opposite of laziness-posing-as-cynicism. I want a kind of intellectual vigor about politics where we care enough to spend our resources where they’ll do the most good. We should care about school boards and our own jobs, not the essentially symbolic presidential vote.

Voting is like buying a spatula with a pink handle. Refusing to work with a company that donates to an irresponsible county commissioner is like convincing a bright student to work in cancer research. It’s way less cool and way more important.

The best way out of this is the (virtual) abolition of the Electoral College or the adoption of true electoral reform. These are more realistic goals than they might seem.

In our winner-take-all system, the natural constituency for a third party would have to be willing to withdraw their support from the less unfavorable major party candidates, and give elections over to the other side's nutjobs. That's a very high cost just to communicate a trend to politicians, which could have been done by straw poll without the resulting damage to civil rights, the economy, church-centric values, or whatever you're most concerned about. The cure for tactical voting is some other polling system like IRV or approval, where I don't lose all possible effect on outcome just because my favorite doesn't win.

It's only badly broken because voters don't participate in the process. The US political system only works when you have an engaged, educated citizenry actively shaping government. Cynicism about one's vote being foregone is one thing that leads to a broken system.

This article has relevance to this problem as well. The vast majority of people won't realize that news is just noise, noise meant to misdirect voters. If you really want to know about the candidates, you can look up their record and do some research. Unfortunately, this isn't taught in civics classes, and most voters are content with what their favorite news channel tells them about how good one candidate is and how evil another candidate is. Then they regurgitate the same talking points with their friends and neighbors and reinforce the media message, entrenching an opinion in non-swing states. The system will work if people would be more willing to participate and educate themselves, like Roshan decided he would do.

Saying it’s bad to think your vote is foregone is different from saying it’s wrong.

And I’m not sure it is bad. It’s the truth, and it’s best to trust people with that. Knowing that my vote is effectively uncounted makes me more, not less, politically effective.

> how can you judge two presidential candidates' positions on foreign policy when you don't know what other nations have been up to?

If you read/watch American news, you think you actually know what other nations are up to?

> If you read/watch American news, you think you actually know what other nations are up to?

This reminds me of a recent Daily Show segment that showed how Time magazine offers different cover stories for their international and their US issues on the same date. One example was the Arab Spring (international) and something on "doing chores" for us here in the US.

Yeah, and puppies. Sometimes when I take a glance at American news it looks like there'd be a conspiracy going on not to expose citizens to any issue possibly widening their field of view on world affairs. It's pathetic.

Sure you can! Like everything else, you have to pick your sources. I go with NYT and the IHT for "American" sources, and the BBC and Al Jaz, and then occassionally the local newspapers if I'm bored. NYT is quite decent, IMO, although obviously far from perfect.

If you watch AJ/BBC you've probably spotted what my comment was up to. If not, just compare it to their respective US alternatives and you get it. I sometimes click on to mainstream US news just to check what's the POV on foreign affairs and I always feel like there's an echo chamber with a very thick wall (not to mention the quality of journalism), and it's not only the one with F and X in their name. It's a pity though, and what makes me more annoyed is that popular news channels in my country also went that direction.

Oh please. Politicians change their positions so much once they are elected that you can't judge what they will do on foreign policy or any other matter.

What helps me get off the news pipeline:

No one is remembered for being well read. - some blog post I've lost, but the quote is still written on my chalkboard, luckily.

when you don't create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability. your tastes only narrow & exclude people. so create. _why

EDIT: I know it's ironic that these came from online sources. I guess the point is about balance and focused, purposeful consumption you later use.

lots of people are remembered for being well read. Take someone like Noam Chomsky. He has written many books based on facts he has read, remembered, and used to support his point of view. his opinion is included, but it is always supported by countless examples and recitation of facts. I have friends that read everything and know a lot on most subjects that intrest me. I admire that a lot, and it is always refreshing to converse with them and learn new things. Some people have the skill of great memory and ability to conjure up information at the right time to create powerful statements.

Chomsky is well-read because he wants to say insightful things. No one is remembered for being well read Chomsky is well-know because of his contributions to human knowledge - being well-read is a step towards building interesting things.

First of all Chomsky is still alive, and secondly, I'm almost certain that he won't be remembered for his poltical writings, but for his scientific contributions.

People don't even read his very early political works much anymore. His new material is what gets most consumed and keeps his name in people's minds.

Chomsky's writings are still standard reading for people in various activist communities. He will most likely be remembered for both, and for the fact that he contributed both.

I just went to a free Chomsky lecture last week and of the dozens of people I've talked to who also went, all went for the political works, even the linguists.

I was just thinking the same thing - but Noam Chomsky writes, and talks, and lectures, and by that, he creates, just as we do when we write software.

Why do you think being remembered is such a big deal? After all, you won't be around to appreciate it.

It implies your life has meaning (if it affects those around you). After all, if we remove you from the universe and nothing changes, you really didn't exist or may as well not have existed in practice.

I changed my habits a few months ago after reading http://www.marco.org/2011/09/04/sane-rss-usage. I'm really happy I did that.

    "RSS is best for following a large number of infrequently updated sites"
I have 6-7 feeds in my Reeder.app and check them weekly.

(Edit) related HN submission and comments: news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2959928

I don't read newspapers, or watch news, or follow current events at all, except for hn, and I agree that most if not all news is of completely no consequence to my life but I do have ~130 feeds in my rss reader and derive a lot of value from them.

From 10 or so comics that are pure distraction (but great to steal jokes from), through blogs on fashion and style (at least I now know when I'm terribly dressed) to life-changing, paradigm-shifting feeds like Overcoming Bias (it's about signalling), The Last Psychiatrist (we're all narcissists) or Barking up the wrong tree (science delivered in tabloid style).

So instead of turning the noise down, this advice allows you to pick your kind of noise.

I think you're using RSS very well (unlike what I used to do).

I like Apple products and use/write for them. I used to have MacRumors, 9to5mac, Cult of Mac, TUAW, The Apple Blog, TC, and a dozen more Apple-related feeds in my RSS (among other feeds). When there was a keynote or a new product announcement, all those websites would publish essentially the same thing over and over again, and I had to 'mark all as read'. I was using RSS wrong, and I'm glad I changed my bad habit. You're using it right and I'm sure you derive value from such a diverse collection of blogs!

I ditched rss readers a long time ago and refuse to use any service with an 'unread' counter except email.

I actually find RSS extremely useful for keeping up on scientific journals and blogs. For instance, there's no way I'll check every journal that might have papers of interest to me, but if I subscribe then I'll get thirty papers or so every month. If i haven't seen anything of interest in a few issues (or blog posts) then I remove it. I also subscribe to R bloggers, stats.stackexchange.com and the R tag on Stackoverflow. I've learned a huge amount from these sites, and for me RSS is a way to avoid pointlessly surfing news/political/science sites for hours. YMMV.

could you link me those sci journals and blogs? they'll be useful for a side project I'm working on.

I agree with this. I still keep some news/tech news sites in my Google Reader, but the vast majority of feeds are ones that update infrequently, from once a day and fewer, most of them being developer/designer blogs.

Let me be the contrarian here. If you limit yourself to a few content sources, you won't be able to make the leaps that come out of having access to information outside those sources and will eventually fall prey to group-think.

Might work for you for a bit but if you want to change the world, you have to be aware of it.

In my experience, a good book about the past is worth a thousand news articles. (And then some.)

History repeats itself more often than we think.

Prime example:

One of the first hacks for the TX-0 was Peter Samson's music compiler, even though the TX-0 was not designed to have such capabilities and to most people the thought was ridiculous.

The first hack for the Altair was Steve Dompier's rendition of "Fool on the hill" using the Altairs radio interference. The Altair wasn't designed for this purpose either.

For some reason, two different people from different decades looking at similar (But very different) machines decided to do the same thing with them, without any prompting.

There are universal concepts that humans try to implement, improve, and expand upon. Keeping these in mind while trying to do cool stuff will go further than most news pieces. (Even the ones about other people doing cool stuff.)

I agree. Good creative output requires at least some degree of good creative input (especially, IMHO, in more artistic endeavors like creative writing). You need other people's ideas to help expand your own, even as you try to escape from their boxes. Yet, if you spend all your time doing that, you'll never reap the benefits.

I'm yet to find the balance.

One of the OP's points is that most "news" sources are not actually informative, but rather just another form of entertainment. That is, they tell you things that your brain latches on to and wants to hear about, not things that you actually need to hear about. How do you respond to that?

I totally agree. I love seeing how a story varies as reported in the ny post, ny times, and la times for example. It definitely gets me thinking about what tthe issues behind the text are, and forming ideas in response.

If you have zero interest in the news I think there is something wrong with you not the news. If you don't educate yourself about the issues going on in the world you're contributing to the ignorance of the American (and global) public. Would your life be virtually unchanged if you didn't know about SOPA? Saying that politics doesn't interest you is like saying you don't care about your society and those around you. Imagine if people hadn't watched/read/listened to some form of "the news" during Arab spring, during Prop 8, during the Civil Rights movement, during the height of the fight for women's rights, during apartheid? I guess you would just go on living right? This really reeks of a super young person (which the author outed himself as). I'm all for finding alternative sources of information rather than traditional media (which is biased no matter what source you use). In UG I took a course called "making the news" and learned some very valuable information, namely don't trust what you read--you've got to dig deeper and find several sources in order to truly understand an issue and the various bias of content producers--authors, publications and even geographic regions.

That's why I love http://daytome.com

About 4 paragraphs of international news every day, saving you both your time and social dignity.

I agree that removing noise and consumption for the sake of distraction is a fine goal, but we cannot pretend there are no consequences from going to one extreme to the other. It's tempting to look at an isolated event like Osama Bin Laden's death and think "who cares? doesn't affect me" but these events form the fabric of the world.

Democracy requires and educated and informed electorate [Jefferson], and if you don't know what the dots are, you can't connect them. Sure, willful ignorance will give you more time to be productive, but when society at large chooses this route, don't be surprised when things go downhill.

"But this post isn’t about politics, it’s about noise."

No! It is about politics. Note that most of the examples given are related to political events.

The OP does have a great point (I waste too much time on HN, perhaps); however, the kind of political aloofness desc/prescribed in the post is what, I think, is the root of the biggest political problem (not just in the US, everywhere): the best people who should be involved in politics are not. It is a common adage that the word idiot was used in Ancient Greek for a person who was not interested in politics (unless of course you were a woman, slave, or farmer).

I fundamentally disagree with the author, and yet agree with him at the same time. I don't have MPD, but he makes two different points.

On the one hand: no, my life would be considerably less richer if I did not pay attention to the world around me. This includes knowing who the President is and understanding why that matters, particularly in the case of the US's first black President. I grew up in Texas, and it matters to me to know that he and my father (or his predecessor) would not have even been allowed to attend school together. Regardless of one's political affiliation or outlook, the issues at that level matter, and our opinion matters. To 'embrace embraced not knowing anything about current events and the world at large' is willful ignorance, and that's a value I find distasteful.

That said: of course one should manage one's intake of information. Of course one should counterbalance that with productivity. Of course one should be a source of value and not merely a sink for the news-as-entertainment complex that has gripped our society. RSS and other technologies should enable us to get control of those things for ourselves rather than watch Walter Cronkite for half an hour every night along with the rest of the nation and then go off and do whatever the party bosses say.

I agree with the problem, but the proposed solution makes things worse. Education - formal and informal - has value in making better citizens of all nations.

I think the situation is similar to how it is easier for a cheap product to add features than it is for a luxury product to become cheaper.

Or put another way: It is wiser and easier to start from zero and add the valuable things than it is to start with everything and remove everything that is not valuable.

Thinking back on my first year of university is painful. I wasted simply too much time 'browsing' the Internet. Every free hour I had I tried to plug myself in and enter zombie mode. I told myself that there wasn't enough time to be productive and that the day was too short. All while spending hours a day looking at cat pictures for one or two laughs an hour. With that in mind I would encourage anyone reading to self evaluate.

Going cold turkey is hard. Once you remove random Internet browsing you'll find that the day is actually quite long. I would suggest having a project to throw your new found free time into.

"I grew up in Texas, and it matters to me to know that he and my father (or his predecessor) would not have even been allowed to attend school together."

Brown v. Board was in 1954. Obama didn't start school until 1967.

You may want to look into the school segregation lawsuits of the 70s, not to mention much of the civil rights movement of the 60s with a particular focus on education. The Supreme Court decision didn't automatically mean integrated schools, which is why my daughter (in an inner-ring suburb of Dallas) attends a magnet school created as part of our desegregation court order. Come to think of it, so did I (though it's, erm, been a while).

"You may want to look into the school segregation lawsuits of the 70s"

I'm quite familiar with the subject, thanks.

Those lawsuits dealt with de facto segregation based on neighborhoods, not de jure segregation based on race. It had a similar effect on the large scale, hence the lawsuits, but that doesn't mean that Obama himself wouldn't have been allowed to attend. Obama didn't live in the 'hood. His grandparents, with whom he lived in Hawaii, were white and well-to-do, and he attended an expensive private school (current tuition: $18,450/year, not including fees).

really interesting perspective, I hadn't thought about it from the perspective of "richness of life"

I guess my rebuttal would be that the news i was reading didn't make my life any richer. it's all so pandoring that it's intentionally not rich, I think.

To me this is the crux of the breadth/depth issue. Matt Might deftly distills the problem in his visual description of a PhD program [1]. The SEALs getting Osama, or knowing what the company Path does, or seeing Christopher Hitchens and William F. Buckley sit down together [2] won't affect most people's daily lives, but for someone working in the intelligence, startup, or political criticism arenas, respectively, missing these events could potentially be career suicide.

I struggle with this a lot, as active filtering takes work [3] (and I'm clearly not the only one [4]). Curated news aggregators and preferential browsing suggestion (StumbleUpon) try to address the problem. Mostly I think it's a matter of dedication and of degrees. To what extent do you maintain a laser focus (but are boring to hang out with) versus being a worldly-wise life-of-the-party type (but spread to thin to innovate on any one thing)?

[1]: http://matt.might.net/articles/phd-school-in-pictures/ [2]: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0LR2mxqMNM [3]: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3470282 [4]: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3602407

Isn't not caring about current political issues the basis for the dystopia that underlies Brave New World?

Not only does too much information create boredom but it can also interfere with your day to day life if you're not careful.

This habit of information snacking totally screwed up my sleeping schedule as well. It got so bad that sometimes I used to stay up till 5:00 in the morning checking one board after another and then sleeping till 12:00 pm next day.

While it did not affect my business, it did take a toll on my health (my lower back) and also because of this I used to find nothing of interest any longer because my brain had started picking up patterns in stories, funnies, and everything else i could find online. Worst part was I could see that what I was doing was not good for me but like every addiction I really didn't have enough motivation to stop it on my own.

Anyway, last year I had to shift my house. And for some reason the only ISP in that area took over a month and a half to install the damn internet connection (some legal issues over digging with the gas pipeline company). On top of that the 3G sucked so bad that even opening Gmail took 3-4 minutes to open.

Long story short, call it a forced rehab but because of that one month of life without internet my life totally got back on track. My sleeping schedule was fixed. I found my old guitar again, and now I spend time on a tonne of other interesting stuff instead of hitting F5 one random sites.

News might entertain us but its chief goal is to sell advertising space. Advertising ultimately pays for almost all news* (esp. newspapers) and so news media focus on getting your attention today, and tomorrow, and using whatever techniques they can to achieve this. Entertainment is just one of these techniques. Disquiet (some might say fear) is another - the sense that things aren't quite right and the associated need to know what isn't quite right.

*BBC (UK taxpayer) and Economist (subscription) are among the exceptions.

Here's a 2008 article pointing out that news' focus on the moment is also a significant failing: http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/03/against-news.html

This 2008 article also points out the social function of news: as a common topic for discussion, particularly for determining compatibility with others (whether of belief, intellectual interest, etc)

The HN article makes a great point about how much this info effects you. If news media let their audience know that nothing happening right now was likely to effect their lives in any way for at least a week (at best, more likely never), then audience would only tune in once a week, which drops viewing figures by 86%. Also, only checking news once a week lets the information settle, and often key details emerge which negate previous reports.

Another useful trick, if cold turkey is too much, is to put a one-day or one-week delay on all incoming news (ie waiting a week to read newspapers). If nothing much is lost by a weeks delay, then its easier to go cold turkey.

I find myself venturing off to all my favorite online outlets when I'm doing a task I'm not particularly interested in. I guess I should step back and ask myself why I'm really doing something. If it plays an important part in helping my start up be succeed, then I should be stoked that I get to make my company better. If I can't find a good reason to be doing it, then I should move on to something of value and importance.

I use a combination of IRC(active) and Twitter/Tweetdeck(passive) for most of my online "reading" these days. It tracks the most social things: people, global topics, and "meeting places," rather than "bloggers", "pop news", or "discussion forums", which have a service/task-oriented feel to them. It is addictive, of course, so I do have to turn it off occasionally, but on balance, I get a lot of benefit out of it, since it's low-maintenance and fairly high-signal, albeit a bit prone to "what i ate for dinner" type spam.

I still go on web sites, obviously, but increasingly I see them as less relevant. Forum-style discussion in particular, whether it uses flat or hierarchical threads, encourages a combination of pedantry and the lowest-common-denominator. OTOH real time - or near real time - communication tends to motivate a link to useful long form content instead of a bad attempt to replicate it in context. This post is a great example of such. It should be done up as a full article and then linked around. As a comment, it'll probably be "lost" forever within a few days.

I think a balance is necessary ...

I budget between one and two hours of my self-directed workday to skimming various tech and business blogs. I save HN for last and scan every new title line. I usually read about 15 - 30 articles during this period.

Furthermore, while I'm waiting for a build, or for a test to reach the point where my interaction is required, I go back to HN and check the page or two of new title lines.

I consider myself a productive Java programmer, writing about 30K lines of code per year for my startup project. I could create more LOC if I did not read the tech news, but I would face two issues: (1) burnout, and (2) the need to stay current with the technology.

My project is heavily leveraged with open source Java /JavaScript libraries, nearly all discovered from tech blogs. For example: Jenkins, JQuery, JSON, JavaCV, OpenChord, Netty, Sesame, the Chrome web browser, Lubuntu, etc. I build my own development & server machines so I need to keep up with hardware.

Additionally, I have steered away from possible infrastructure dead ends by observing trends, such as the move to mobile HTML5 apps.

I don't know. I guess this is like swimming in a lake. Your head is down in the water most of the time, but every once in a while you lift your head to see what's around you and if you're swimming in the right direction. Swimming with your head down is like doing your work and being productive. Lifting your head up is like reading the news and know what's happening around you. I only read about 10 minutes of news each day, but that's enough to avoid trying to go through a wall blindly while not being aware of the door 2m away.

For example, I changed career because I read about how Banks screw people over and how Big Data is becoming important. Also, I decided not to work for a company, because I read it in the news how it's basically slave work and how the owners have it exceptionally good. So now I'm starting my own company, doing machine learning in finance.

I can relate, i've been on both extremes of the news comsumption spectrum at various phases in my life. As a political writer, i try to read the op ed of a national paper every day. After that, i like to skim the wsj fro t page, the nyt biz section on mondays ("media mondays"), nyt science section on tuesdays, and the nyt magazine on sundays. I am from a family of newspaper editors so i look at it somewhat critically, but i save online reading & gossip mags for certain days/moments when i want to zone out and not read critically. The la times is a fantastic paper these days, website still a tad wonky on mobile but no paywall & amazing writers/content on every level. If i read nothing else i read their op ed. Also for entrepenuers i have heard anecdotally that reading a financial paper daily is a must.

My own personal primary source for news has become twitter. I've realized I don't need to always the know the full details of what has happened. I just need to know that it has in fact happened. Let's say I follow different personalities: tech journalist, celebrity, personal friend, random person living in my town, CNN or NYTimes or WSJ - just by quickly scrolling through my feed I get a pretty good idea about what is going on. And I also get a sense of how important it is: if all the people I follow, who come from different career paths, are reporting on the same piece of news, it's probably something fairly important.

It's relatively quick and keeps me informed. I don't watch any of the cable news channels and don't listen to talk radio. And since I've stopped watching CNBC, my stock portfolio has been doing better as well.

well, what do you want to be? a narrow-minded, ignorant human or civilized man?


the world, life, is much more than work, work, work. understanding broader contexts, understanding where we are going and why is important. even as a founder, to come back to this extremely narrow narrative within these halls.

how do you understand you market, your consumers, your customers? a contracting economy bears different potential than an expanding one. how will you know where we are if you do not inform yourself?

how about reading a book or two, not the daily babble? you mention you've read the news but didn't understand anything. if you do not inform yourself, you will repeat the mistakes of others.

you sound like one of those pretentious fucks that don't watch tv, don't listen to current music and are proud of it. it bears of ignorance, of disregard of the output of other human beings.

Sure, knowing that Osama was killed isn't a life or death piece of information but staying informed is important to many people. It doesn't have to be binary - read it all or read nothing. You can quickly stay informed if you pick news sources that respect your time.

IMO, reading several short summaries of current events is a better solution than limiting yourself to 1 or 2 stories a day. That's exactly why I created a website[1] that crowd sources summaries of news articles. People come in, read the news, and get on with their day.

[1] http://skimthat.com - Crowd sourced news summaries.

Another source for news summaries is http://www.newser.com and if you like videos you can try http://www.newsy.com/

He didn't seem that much addicted. He seems to read a short amount of RSS compared to, well people like me, didn't even vote. And now he's reading 2 posts/day on HN? I don't think it's even possible, if you were really addicted to RSS to shrug it down to that small amount.

Back in the days I was writing for a news blog so I used to subscribe to 100+ blogs and news website, in french or english, I was alerted of a post more than twice a minute.

My day was, literally, to sit in front of my computer and read, filter, subscribe, unsubscribe.

The only way I found to stop this addiction after a year of up and down was just to stop using NetNewsWire and Google Reader (don't ask me why I was using two of them, more filters...).

3-4 years after, I just check reddit, HN, couple of french websites and know more about american politic than my country's politic.

This echoes a lot of the ideas from Clay Johnson's book "Information Diet: a case for conscious consumption". That book has a few good actionable ideas about how to modify your sources and methods of getting news so you get better information and learn to identify bias.

I lived in the Philippines for two years and aside from emailing my family once a week, usually, I was completely ignorant of the outside world.

Someone mentioned in passing that Michael Jackson had died and I thought they were just teasing our lack of worldly knowledge.

I liked this post and I think a concept at play here is that people are afraid of the quiet as they're afraid of themselves. I experimented with different teaching methods and that while I was over in the Philippines and using silence and good questions were the most effective methods I came across outside of having genuine understanding of the person/group.


In "The Four Hour Work Week", Timothy Ferriss claims to not have read a newspaper for years. It's all about maximum output. Minimizing input is one great way to free up time and energy to drastically increase output.

I disagree with your fundamental point that all news sources are not trying to educate or inform you, but are instead trying to entertain you in some bias way. Of course nearly all of them are in order to make a profit (Fox News for instance), but I'm frustrated that you don't see the value that organizations like The Associated Press offer to a free society. The AP is a non-profit, un-biased organization that provides a service that our constitution guarantees. I hope see this is powerful and important and try out AP Mobile.

installed AP Mobile. I think there's still gems out there, for example I love Planet Money.

I'll give AP Mobile a try, thanks!

Once you've generally sussed out how all of the different perspectives view issues, and thereby understand the patterns by which the world operates, the news starts seeming repetitious.

While I agree with the idea that, "consuming has a more immediate reward than creating," the need to be distracted isn't the only reason. We do want to be informed and reputable media outlets, for the most part, do want to inform. It is our inability to effective process the ever increasing amount of information out there. Maybe we need to take on less interests or maybe we need better filters (Google isn't cutting it?).

This reminds me of that Bill Nguyen article, where he revealed he had never even used Facebook until recently, claiming he doesn't keep up with tech. If you're a startup founder, you can't afford to be uninformed about your competition and the industry. The answer is not reading less, but reading smarter. I don't know what the solution is, but it sure isn't limiting my consumption to 1 or 2 articles.

You actually treats the social shame as small piece into this huge puzzle, but it's wrong.

Almost everything we do in adult life is to make social life easier. We go to college, learn new language, we read news, we buy things. All this has an small practical value but huge social impact. Knowing what's going on the news is a HUGE part of our relationship with others.

Hmmm, some of the ideas to get rid of noise could be: 1. to have some good, fun books that you can pick and read (not a laptop book) when you need a break. 2. to have some real sport / game thing going - could be as simple as a table tennis game or a brisk walk. 3. to have a musical instrument around (of course you should know how to use it).

More ideas?

I've had quite a few e-mails expressing similar thoughts in regards to programming news and my e-mail newsletters. Some people are getting sick of the trawl around Reddit, HN, Twitter, and the various sites, and instead prefer a curated, once weekly e-mail. It's not for everyone, of course, but it seems some people love trimming back!

Like everything, it's all about moderation. It's very useful to have something to say in social and work situations.

Spending 10-minutes a week reading pop culture or sports news, or keeping up on what concerts, events etc are coming to your area payoff huge in meeting new friends, dating, building relationships at work and so forth.

Nothing is frivolous except excess.

I've found a great way reduce the amount of news and media that you consume is to travel.

Travel forces you to be offline most the time. You don't watch tv or see "news" much at all. After a while you don't even miss it and actually prefer life without it.

At least that;s what I've been doing for the last three years. Works pretty well.

Borges once commented that newspapers should be printed once in 100 years, and should only have articles about the "real" news like "Christopfer Columbus disovered America". I couldn't agree more, but still I read them every day and always with a feeling that I'm about to discover something new :).

I've been thinking about this issue for a while now. The term I like for what we are experiencing is "information obesity" (and I've written about it here: http://andrewoneverything.com/information-obesity )

I agree that the so-called "news" is entertainment, but being completely uninformed about current events will make you non-discerning in addition to more productive. Perhaps it would be better to consume better information as opposed to less information.

I had this same insight about a year ago, and while I didn't completely remove all my news, I made a point of reducing my RSS feed count to under 100 (it had been over 600.) I was indeed more productive, yet found myself missing knowing what, say, the latest Apple rumors were. But, it also didn't matter what the latest Apple rumors were. (Such rumors were wrong most of the time anyway..)

But I didn't write this comment just to agree with the OP. I wanted to add..

<i>Say that you somehow didn’t know we found and killed Osama Bin Laden last year, I claim that your life would be virtually the same if you did.</i>

That is probably true, but let me add something that takes even more of people's (or at the typical american male's) thought capacity and the knowledge of it is DEFINITELY meaningless: The fact that the Giants won the Super Bowl two weeks ago.

With the disclaimer that I am formerly a pretty big sports fan, it astounds me how much detail people know about pro sports. They can talk endlessly, for hours. The amount of time they spend just attaining that knowledge each season - it's gotta be comparable to the amount of time it takes to learn and become proficient in a new programming language. It's the same amount of time to perhaps take and do all the work for not one but several MIT/Stanford online learning courses. It's the same amount of time that, devoted to exercise, would transform an overweight person into shape. Every year! Yet they spend that time watching and reading about the NFL.. - and to what end? So they can be knowledgeable enough about the second-string tight end on the Packers that they can have a locker-room conversation about it?

Of course, the same can be said about entertainment in general - indeed, the OP's point was that news, while claiming to be important, is just entertainment. And while I didn't watch any news or football games this year, I'd be a hypocrite not to point out that I did watch a lot of Star Trek with my son. The consequence of this became clear to me this week - we punished him this week for something he did by disallowing all screens - which meant the TV didn't go on all week (and my wife and I didn't watch TV either.) Without thinking about it, by the end of the week I had come up with an idea and was hacking away at a whole new side-project. I haven't done that in a long time. Feels good. Any my son? He's reading. Got into a whole new series of books he found at the library and has set himself a goal to read every one of them.

tl;dr: if news is a waste of time, what about sports and other idle entertainment?

I tend to agree but offer this quote from CNBC / Becky Quick:

"Buffett generally reads five newspapers a day -- the Journal, the Financial Times, the New York Times, USA Today and the Omaha World-Herald. Make that six -- he reads the American Banker every day too."

“Hey my name's Roshan, I'm the Cofounder and CTO of Bloc.”

You got a high ranking hacker news story. I visited http://www.trybloc.com/ just now as a result of your story.

I am wondering what it is. The page didn't tell me.

The image in this post was stolen from "Rejected" - a short animated film by Don Hertzfeldt.


ok, added. I wasn't thinking, thanks for calling me out :)

ah crap, sorry about that I'll add a reference right now

I can't tell you how many times I've explained this to friends. You hit this spot on. Catchy title too, I clicked it probably as a result :)

The fact that I read your post means I've lost 50% of my daily news quota. Damn.

Good advice nonetheless.

this made me chuckle :)

I think this is the very definition of "ignorance is bliss".

Let me see... At first I agreed, then I said no. Even last week, I was lamenting my 14 hour days on HN[1][2]. If I think only for that day, I lost that day, but if I think over my time here, I'm net positive.

What I was failing to realize was I had the ability, just not the opportunity. Your ability can only be exercise only at max. 8 hrs if you have a job, and for the most parts it plateaus out, ie your first 100 hrs of programming provides more benefit than your second and so on[but not a excuse not to practice, I leave for another comment]. Your first hour of observing opportunity is good as your 10000th.

The thing about opportunities is that they don't appear to have any meaning at first, only when you go back and connect the dots. For instance, someone ask me how my resume looks so good. I would say I was helping a friend with their programming assignment who introduced me to their flat mate. Said flat mate studied philosophy. I knew a little because I hanged with a guy[while doing my undergrad] who had multiple degrees and he used to talk about guys like Hume and so on. Based on that commonality, we became friends. And what do you know, she was an expert at doing resumes, and helped me finish mines in no time flat.

I know it just a resume, but other bigger gains follow the same pattern. You only notice them in retrospect. Each time, I think I was goofing off, helping people out with their assignments, sitting with some guy talking philosophy and so on.

Sometimes, I see people and they ask for help. Why am I so different than them. They think I'm working with a bigger brain. I tell them you need to relax; get your head out of the book. It's non-intuitive. They tend to respond with you don't need to study, you have an in built advantage since birth. But, really is that the truth? If you get your head out of the book, you start doing things you want to do. You become curious, a positive pulling emotion.

You guys know how it's done. You find something new and interesting on HN, you research it. Then you find something from that new and interesting, and you research it. By the time you would have finished, you would have covered something you needed to study for, all the while remaining curious and looking particularly like a lazy bum. The other way around, things are a drag.

You add on that, the community has common themes coming through[eg. meditation, stoicism]. Raise your hand if you read "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy." through solid recommendations on HN. And by God, it was a good book. It provides a perspective on life most would never get. With these common themes you can connect with members here, who might not be able to help you directly but indirectly opportunities might come their way that they might not be able to exploit and pass them onto you.

Also, it is not only about taking. It is about giving. How many times have you read a comment that refined your perspective or perhaps you gave an insight. What about when people ask for help on HN. Even if you just gave an up click, that is a massive contribution if you did it in the first few minutes of a post. If you think hard enough you will know these up clicks save/change lives.

What I'm basically saying drinking from the firehose can seem like a waste of time, but over the long hall it works out. Working on your ability alone means that you are trying to create an opportunity, and in a weeks period you can only create one opportunity if you work really hard, and it might not pan out. On the other hand, reading one hour of HN provides you with hundreds of opportunity, most you will not explore, but still you know they are there and can share with friends who can thus building strong relationships.

For instance, you heard it mentioned that one of the ways to create value is to see what opportunities can be exploit from delivering old technology in a knew way. Before, publishing use to take longer. Now, it is short with kindle, people can exploit that. Instead of giving their book one title they can create the same book with different titles and layouts[is this against Amazon policy], maybe even different content to match a different audience to scope a bigger payout. They can now use stuff like A/B testing[looking at paraschopra.] You see what I just did there.

It's either that or you need to tell me Chester go finish up my weekend project and stop procrastinating. But my thoughts are I'm winning so far for the most parts, and I never change a winning team. We observe it in basketball, there is this one guy who doesn't seem to contribute anything, but you are winning and when he is not there you are not winning[HN/News is that one guy]. Some smartass might look at it and say we can do better; lets cut this loser out, he is not contributing, then you start losing. You got too smart for your own good, never change a winner. Some things might be so complicated that you don't even know what is contributing to your success.

If you are on HN, and everything is going fine for the most part, don't change it, don't lose your competitive edge you lazy bastard.[Sorry if I sound incoherent]

[1] https://twitter.com/#!/chegra/status/168805385447284736

[2] https://twitter.com/#!/chegra/status/168805177523048448

I've been there, over consumed, then shut everything out for a while. The truth is, the author still has a bit to learn, I think. Seems like he went through a phase and is now on the complete opposite end of the spectrum he was once on. It's definitely a good idea not to get so engrossed by all the noise but I've actually gained a lot by reading news. I've tried and learned things I wouldn't have had I not chose to read a bit of news each morning. The real trick is to find balance in your life. The ancient Greeks had it right: life is all about balance. Going too far in one direction or the other is never good.

So I must disagree with this post. The trick is to strike a healthy balance between consumption and creation, not to cut one or the other out almost completely.

"What followed were three of the most productive years of my life."

Well, normally college years are the most productive years of anyone's life up to that point. If they're not you're doing it wrong.

Plus, if all you used RSS for is to keep up with "Bush's latest folly", then of course you'll be more productive giving it up.

I would add that the media's job isn't only to entertain you, it's also to keep you worried. Read/watch the news, and ask yourself "what are they trying to make me worry about today?" You'll be surprised.

Osama who?

Wait.. wasn't the article talking about Obama?... huh? Man, you got me all confused

You have to read the whole article again...

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