Only YOU Can Identify Rabbit Holes (Online, That Is)

I’ve thought a lot about how to answer the question about
healthy Internet practices when it comes to reading articles and following
links. I can only express what I’ve learned by way of a few personal example, building upon last week’s blog posts.
First example: I’m writing a short story about a character
whose hometown is Cairo, IL. As I worked on the story throughout the week, I
had to look up some facts (how many square miles is the town?). I found the
facts within seconds, but also noted other interesting links (a historical
narrative, a piece on ghost towns, a description of levees). I did not read these articles when I found
them. I saved them using Safari
web browser’s handy “Reading List” tool
. If you don’t use Safari, you can
simply cut and paste the link from articles you want to read and keep them in
an open file in Word. Just like you might use an “Emails to Send” file to
compose while offline, you can create a “Articles to Read” file and treat
yourself when the time feels right.
But that’s work, you might say. You’re a short story author. The
distinction I make is this: I’m not at my desk when I read these articles, I’m
not taking notes, I’m not reading for very long, and I’m not re-working my
short story. Sometimes, the impulse to do so is strong. But I’ve found that if
I trust my memory and the energy that’s paired with that impulse to return to the
work, on Monday I can write more efficiently and powerfully because I was
wholly focused and at ease when I absorbed the information in the article. I
don’t read the article between a flurry of emails from private students or
hosting organizations. I read it during the open expanse of a day off, I ponder
it, and I let my mind do its invisible work. If an image, fact, or idea really
matters, it will still be there for me when I need it.
It’s my belief that this has everything to do with the theory of abundance. We don’t have to be
slaves to everything around us. Everything will always be around us anyway! Trust in that, and we’ll find that instead of
grabbing at things for fear they won’t always be available, instead, we have a
world of inspiration at your fingertips because we can find it in almost
anything we engage with.
Second example: Now I’m going to get a little direct. That
awesome link you saw in your Facebook News Feed when you had only 45 seconds
left of your daily 60 minutes online, or that very next link on the New York Times page you’ve got to
follow. Guess what? Those articles will
still be there
when the weekend comes. The Internet is always there. But this moment, this thought, might not be. So
enjoy the diversity of content and voices you can find online, but try using a
tool like the Safari Reading List to enjoy all the perks of the content without actually being online (or being
able to follow any links). Don’t use the Safari Reading List tool? No problem.
It’s the weekend. It’s fine. Just read the article and enjoy it, relishing the
fact that you’ve been waiting a few days to get to this and, as a result,
you’re really going to focus and enjoy whatever that article contains. Desperate
to leave a comment at the end of the article? Go for it. Getting lost by
reading the comments thread? Well…
Here’s where we get to the third example: Rabbit Holes. I
treat rabbit holes a lot like Smoky the Bear treats forest fires. “Only YOU can
prevent forest fires!”…ergo, “Only YOU can identify rabbit holes.” I’m not a
“commenter” and don’t read much online anyway (I prefer print). But if you read
your news online, if you read comments, if you follow all the links and read
the sidebars too, then this information is for you. It’s a simple calculation:
Is the activity
bringing you joy? Does it feel fulfilling? Does it feel significant and, if so,
significant as a means to what end?
Pretend your boss is there, in your house, on a weekend,
asking you these questions. Your boss is a good boss. She has your best
interests in mind. Now, answer honestly. I suspect most folks will find
themselves back to that good ol’ idea of intention and tone. Where are you
sitting when you’re “surfing”? How are you feeling? What is your posture like?
Have you been outside yet today? What about that idea you had a while back to
try and knit a scarf? Remember real mail—the beauty of sending it, waiting for
it, tearing it open? Read the article you want to read online, sure, and then
if it seems like something worth sharing, why not print it out and send it to a
friend the old way?

…And speaking of real mail
and of worthwhile links, stay tuned for my wrap-up of this topic in Friday’s
post. I’ve found a group of artists who did something truly awesome. It started
with memory, they responded with music, they partnered with Google, and now
their project is completed, uniquely and over and over again, with a few keystrokes and clicks from viewers. It’s pretty amazing.

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