The curse of the Sisyphean read-later list

Let's talk about our digital 'save for later' pile. You know what I'm talking about - that growing list of articles, videos, and podcasts we swear we'll get to eventually. It's like we're building our own little museum of cool stuff we'll explore 'one day.'

When are you going to read that long article about the Byzantine Empire or listen to that lengthy podcast on climate politics? How many articles from The Atlantic, Substack and Threads have you hopefully squirrelled away? If you're like me, these things are just sitting there, untouched.

They're in Instapaper. Pocket. Matter. Safari's reading list. Flipboard. They're bloody everywhere.

Here's the funny thing: In trying to learn everything, we learn very little. We stuff ourselves with information but don't digest it. It's a sign of our times – we want to know more but feel empty.

So why do we keep adding to this pile?

At its core, the 'save for later' list is a manifestation of our digital era's paradox of choice. With the internet offering an endless buffet of information, we find ourselves overwhelmed by options. This abundance leads to what psychologist Barry Schwartz describes as the paradox of choice, where too many options can lead to decision paralysis and dissatisfaction. Our lists become a way to manage this overload, a method to bookmark our intentions against the relentless tide of new content.

Every article, video, or podcast we save speaks to a part of ourselves that yearns for growth, understanding, and connection. They represent a version of ourselves that is more informed, more cultured, or more attuned to the nuances of the world. In this sense, our 'save for later' list is not just a collection of content but a mosaic of our idealized self. But at the same time, each saved item is a reminder of our finite nature in contrast to the infinity of knowledge available. It's a clash between our mortal selves and our quest for a quasi-immortal grasp of information.

Behavioural economists talk about the intention-action gap, where our plans don't always translate into action due to various factors like procrastination or a change in priorities. This gap is glaringly evident in our interaction with these lists. The act of saving something for later provides an immediate sense of satisfaction, a psychological phenomenon known as the 'planning fallacy,' where we overestimate our future time and resources.

Understanding this, the challenge then becomes how to bridge this gap. The answer isn't in managing our time or prioritizing better; it's in aligning our aspirations with our actions. This calls for introspection and a willingness to confront the reasons behind our procrastination. Are we truly interested in these topics, or are we saving them to conform to an idealized image of ourselves? Are we avoiding them because they challenge our beliefs or require mental effort that we're not ready to commit? Or is it just that there is too much content, and we're drowning in it?

Either way, the concept of 'later' in our digital age needs re-examination. In a world where new information constantly vies for our attention, 'later' becomes increasingly elusive. Instead of hoarding content, we need to cultivate a habit of selective engagement, where we consciously choose what to consume based on its relevance and value to our personal and professional growth, creating space for thoughtful engagement with content that truly matters rather than mindlessly accumulating information.

Not every saved article needs to be read, not every podcast listened to. Part of managing our digital lives involves recognizing that it's okay not to know everything and finding peace in our choices about what to engage with and what to pass by. In doing so, we reclaim our time and mental space, allowing ourselves to engage more with less.

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