Building A Better Internet Diet

James Tynion IV reflects on his efforts to rebuild how he engages with information online, and openly pines for the heyday of the Google Reader app

Hmmmm. Okay. So, this is normally the sort of thing that I would just kind of blather on about on Twitter, hoping to get a bunch of suggestions, but never really getting anything I wouldn’t get from a cursory google… But now I have a captive audience of my own and you have all foolishly volunteered to just have my thoughts thrown at you from time to time. And this has all been in my head a lot over the last couple of months so rather than let it all bubble up and distract me, I’m going to expel all those rambling thoughts into a newsletter. Hooray!

I’m trying to rebuild how I connect to the internet. 

The goal here, which I’ve talked about before, is having a bit more control over my inputs. I want to be able to have a bit more agency over my curiosity. If I’m interested in reading up on a subject, I want to be able to dig into a curated pool of sources that has information on these sources to sate my curiosity and learn new things, while maintaining the control in that situation. I don’t want to be pointed outside the pool of sources I am choosing to engage with. Part of the trouble with algorithmic platforms is that they’re always trying to distract you and present you with content that you’re more likely to engage with by their metrics (external engagement – likes, retweets, quote tweets, comments), when what I’m more interested in is the content that will make me think (internal engagement – where it just kind of sits with me and makes me think interesting thoughts on my own terms). 

Obviously, the BEST way to do that is going analog, and I AM trying to rebuild more and more of my days offline – going on longer walks listening to audiobooks, reading a book or comic made out of paper rather than staring at a screen – but I really don’t want to go FULL luddite. The internet is still the best font of information that the world has ever created, and while I think some bad actors have broken how we engage with that font, I don’t think the font itself is without value. In fact, I still think it all has tremendous value. The problem is agency and autonomy while navigating all that information, and a lack of tools that exist online genuinely give you what you need to weed through the muck and find the good stuff.

If I were the god of the internet, I would go back and recreate Google Reader, an RSS reader that was my primary access point for the entire internet for years, that I miss literally every single day I’m on a computer. That was how I followed my webcomics, my comics news, my film/tv news, my political news, blogs by smart people I liked, humor blogs, and what have you. Back when that was my news source, and social media was more about socializing, it all felt a bit more palatable (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it was all more palatable back when I wasn’t a public figure, but I do think I’d still be thinking all of this if I wasn’t). There are still a few clones of Google Reader that popped up after the application’s death and are technically still functional, but a lot of news sources have gotten real sloppy about how they maintain their RSS feeds, and most of it has become a kitchen sink situation… Which is a problem because those same news sources have all really switched hard into the clickbait model over the last decade. There’s a lot of glut to sift through to get to the actual good shit that makes you think. The kind of internet article that was created not to sell anything, but to inform you, or make you think, or to express some other emotion its creator was trying to support. 

To give a sense of my current information diet - Right now I support a few dozen Patreons, which I mostly check through the excellent Patreon App, and I follow about twenty Substacks (both paid and unpaid) which I mostly engage with through my email inbox. Substack has a reader that is still in beta and is CLOSE to what I’m looking for to peruse the site, but I wish it had more sorting options and that you could read the articles directly IN the reader rather than needing to click out to the native page. On top of that, I follow another dozen or so unaffiliated newsletters. I’m signed up for a bunch of Vice.com newsletters (though I don’t think I actually get a lot of the ones I signed up for in my inbox for some reason, now that I say that). I have subscriptions to the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, New York Magazine/Vulture, SKTCHD, and Panel X Panel – But I mostly engage with each of these sources when I remember to.

In the lead-up to quitting twitter, I mirrored all of my private lists that I used to follow news sources and pundits I’m interested in on an inactive dummy account. The dummy account doesn’t actually follow any of these people, it just has them on lists that I was naïve enough to think would not contaminate the main newsfeed. The idea was that if I wanted to see what all the political talking heads who specialize in this or that were saying on a given news day, I could still dive in and absorb all of it. This experiment was already a failure weeks before I stepped away from Twitter publicly. When you don’t actually follow enough people on that site, the twitter newsfeed algorithm starts populating your newsfeed with stuff it wants you to engage in. I’ll probably hold onto that account as a utility player when it comes to big news days, like an election or what have you (I definitely checked it a bit at the top of this week to keep an eye on the developments in Afghanistan), but ultimately the algorithm beat me on this front and I’ll be using that resource very sparingly.

I just wish there was a decent way to sort and organize all of the inputs, so I could be more focused in how I engage with each of them. The ideal system is probably going to be a constellation of web applications. I should figure out which of the newsletter readers that exist out there function the best (though the trouble there is most of them require creating a dummy email account to sort through, which locks you out of most of the paid newsletters – and doesn’t feel like the most secure system?), find a good surviving RSS reader to sort through the news sources I want to stay engaged in (though once again, it feels like the paywalls will stand in the way of some of this), and keep my dummy twitter in a lockbox to break open in case of a particular news moment. It’s unlikely that the internet is built in a way that anything can work as well as Google Reader did in its heyday. 

Curious if any of my followers here have found a better way to sort through all the junk food and keep a healthy information diet here on the internet. Not expecting anybody to present me with the secret, magic key to a better way to browse the internet, but I can always dream.

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

My pals Matt Rosenberg and Tyler Boss announced a brand new Image Comics series today called WHAT’S THE FURTHEST PLACE FROM HERE? The first issue is 60 pages and it’s really fucking good. If you order the deluxe version of the book, it comes with an actual 7” LP, with a bunch of really amazing talent attached. It’s launching in November, and you should let your Local Comic Shop know that you want to add it to your pull lists. I love when folks in comics try to break out of the usual mode, and what Matt and Tyler are doing with the records is just really fucking cool. If you want more people to try cool shit like that, you should support the folks who do!

Lots of stuff happening behind the scenes this week, and I really really do wish there were twice as many days in every single week. I’ve got the first cover that will be available only to founders tier members up and running, and will have more to share with you on that front soon. In case you’re a later free subscriber to this newsletter, Founders Tier members are going to get six different ultra-rare covers available only to those subscribers. I’m going to be sending out a form to all founders tier members soon (as well as the folks who got the first 24 hour special offer). If all of that sounds interesting to you, you should upgrade to a paid subscription here, today.

Tomorrow I’ll give you some big picture thoughts on Blue Book, and might show off the first look at some of Michael Avon Oeming’s original artwork for the series. I’m going to talk a bit about the influences and maybe share a bit of what I wrote up… Here’s a little taste of some Dylan Todd design work

Ain’t it beauteous? Okay. More soon. You all have a good one.

James Tynion IV
Brooklyn, NY
8.19.21