Looking for Meaning in Meaningless Blog Posts

In a Merlin Mann, Inbox Zero-esq fashion, I do my best to carefully limit the number of things allowed to compete for my attention. Although I regularly fall far short of this goal in most areas of my life, I do a relatively good job when it comes to the news I read and the writers I follow on the internet. While one could certainly make the argument against Hacker News as a news source with any rhyme or reason, that single exception aside the rest of the content I consume on a daily basis comes to me through a carefully curated RSS stream. Outside of Hacker News and those RSS feeds primarily aggregating the content of one-man-shop bloggers, I do not follow any other news outlets. I do not follow CNN, Fox, Time, or The Washington Post. I don’t read the local newspaper, the national one, or any other print publication I could reliably hide behind. I don’t watch the news whenever I can help it; after sitting through a feature on the egregious and all-too-common problem of using too much laundry detergent, I see little point in taking the effort to turn the TV on and change the channel. I don’t even turn the radio on anymore. And while this approach certainly has some advantages — every day I am presented with a relatively low number of articles and news stories, fewer of the articles I encounter are poorly written and uninteresting, and as a result of those two benefits I rarely experience a shortage of good reading material — it has its fair share of disadvantages as well.

For one, the news I encounter through these channels is not only a very unrepresentative example of the important events going on in the world today, I would even go so far as to characterize it as sanitized: I only see what I want to see, and the most horrifying thing I encounter on a nearly daily basis is the release of yet another outrageously sized Samsung “phone”. Talk abut first-world problems. But Samsung’s crimes against humanity are not the focus of this post.

In addition to the aforementioned pros and cons is one more result I had trouble categorizing, the intended topic of this post: the implied importance of every single thing I read. From my manicured news stream, I further sterilize it by selecting every potentially interesting article I encounter and then sending those pieces to Instapaper. After so many steps and filters, these carefully selected articles populating my Instapaper queue carry with them this implied importance, asking to be read and scrutinized in search of the author’s single salient, intelligent point that will make me sit back in my chair and ponder his or her words for a while. On top of that, I often feel the need to make a post, however brief, mentioning every article I save to Instapaper. After all, those pieces are the best of the best. It would be an unfortunate oversight not to spend a nontrivial amount of time extracting an intelligent pull-quote and writing a few brief sentences about those articles, wouldn’t it?

That’s the question I posed myself earlier today, and the question I ignored before posting Chasing the Right Zero. I had nothing to add to the discussion surrounding that piece, I didn’t even think it was that great, but I nevertheless felt that I had to write about it, if for nothing else than because somewhere in that short piece there was something exceedingly meaningful and I was just missing it, when in actuality I was merely continuing a long habit of searching for meaning in yet another article in which there was none.