Finding the Tall Poppies

In a previous post I explained my process for keeping up with what’s going on the in world without turning on TV news. It’s pretty simple, very personal, and definitely not for everyone.

Recently I got a little reinforcement for my approach from a “futurist” whose approach for reading less news and being better informed was profiled in a Quartz article.

I disagree with some of his ideas – like getting off social media and “going dark” for periods of time. And I’ve never been comfortable in striking up conversations with random strangers.

But here are a few of his ideas I can completely endorse.

1. Practice selective ignorance

Trying to keep up with everything happening is a great recipe for frustration. So concentrate on finding better information on fewer but important topics.

3. Find the “tall poppies”
The futurist advises that each of us cultivate a network of curious and remarkable people who are hungry for interesting information and can guide our thinking. Such remarkable characters are called “tall poppies” in some companies, and Watson believes collecting these human blooms drives success.

Love that term “tall poppies”. For me, I also want poppies in my network who challenge my thinking in a constructive way.

5. Find sources you trust
Follow reliable, thoughtful, forward-looking publications and journalists online and let them do the heavy lifting, finding the most interesting info for you.

As I said in the earlier post, this is the core of my learning process. Creating reliable, thoughtful material takes hard work and time. You don’t get that from the talking heads channels.

Finally, he recommends travel, something more Americans need to do. Even if it’s visiting unfamiliar parts of your own country.


The image illustrates an article called Humans are Built to be Futurists on Futurist.com, a relatively new blog written by a futurist consultant.

A Modest Cure For The Overload of What Looks Like Information

I have a confession to make. I have not watched television news for more than a year. Not the so-called cable news stations, not regular network programs (morning or night), and not the local broadcasts.

Not only do I feel better, I think I’m also better informed than the people who binge on that stuff. Certainly better than anyone who watches Fox “news”.

It started just before the 2016 election when I took off for a week in Cuba that just happened to include election day. After learning of the results (the family we were staying with was very sympathetic), I decided I needed a new media diet, one that actually contained useful information, instead of hour after hour of “analysts” with little information and grids full of screaming heads.

My information stream may not work for you but it might give you some ideas on how to craft your own break from TV.

I start with suggested content from a few curated sources. Curation is that thing editors of television news, newspapers, and magazines used to do when they had 24 hours or more to consider events and decide which ones were worth including in their limited space. They didn’t always get it right, but trying to find instant value as you watch the stream is even worse.

My current favorite curators include Next Draft (by one person Dave Pell) and Quartz’ Daily Brief. Every weekday, both deliver a short collection of links to the stories they consider most important, along with some interesting stuff of less import. Plus very brief and sometimes humorous commentary.

I also receive a few weekly collections. From writer and edtech critic Audrey Watters (for a jolt of reality and much to consider), writer and artist Austin Kleon (for some inspiration), and UK-based educator Doug Belshaw (for education-related ideas).

None of these sources takes long to scan through, and I certainly don’t read the stories at the end of every single link. Very often the commentary is enough to get a general idea, especially when it comes to political news.

The articles and posts I do want to read usually get sent to Instapaper, an incredible service that aggregates anything I send to it and then delivers the information in a simplified format (re: no ads!) on any device I happen to be holding when time allows for some reading. It also offers some good highlighting and note taking features for when I want to rant about something in this space.

So, there it is. My simple, curated flow that takes less time and delivers more information than whatever passes for news on television. Chances are, if there is something worth viewing, one of these sources will link to the video anyway.

And what, you say, about “breaking news”?

I maintain that there’s no such thing. Most of what is given that label by the news channels is not of immediate importance and they often have very incomplete (often incorrect) details on what happened anyway. They offer even less on why it’s important. Besides, my Twitter feed will tell me if something big has happened in the world, and I can then choose to follow one of the tweeted links. More curation.

Anyway, that’s my system of keeping up with the news. As I said, it may not work for you. However, I would argue that most people would be far better informed with a buffer of time and thought between the actual event and the report of it. And a few good curators.


The graphic is by Jessica Hagy who has been posting these wonderfully insightful charts every weekday morning at her site This is Indexed for more than decade.

Day Old News

I have a confession to make.

I haven’t watched TV news since sometime back in September. Not the 24-hour talking heads channels, not the broadcast network’s evening summaries, not even 60 Minutes.

Pogo

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping up with current events, in all their crappyness.

Instead of suffering through all the faux debates and BREAKING NEWS!!, I returned to only consuming day-old news.

Some of it comes from the old fashioned paper delivered to the door every morning. Some on websites that write about events from several days or even weeks ago. Maybe a video or two when appropriate.

Information sources like the Washington Post, The Atlantic, and The Guardian (UK) whose writers and editors go beyond just relating what happened but also why it matters.

Of course, that doesn’t mean those day-old sources are 100% accurate. Even with the extra time to develop some context for events, they sometimes make mistakes. Occasionally they create misleading, even stupid, headlines. Even so, day-old is a whole lot more accurate than up-to-the-minute.

I’m not sure I’m a better informed person for this change. And the extra effort required may not be for everyone.

But I feel better.1

3-2-1 For 1-8-17

Three readings worth your time this week.

End of year retrospectives can be tedious and, in the case of 2016, rather depressing. However, Planet Lab’s review of their favorite satellite imagery from the past year is beautiful and the pictures tell some interesting stories. (about 5 minutes)

dana boyd, who has made a career of trying to understand teenagers (and who really does spell her name with no caps), asks Did Media Literacy Backfire? in a recent essay. I disagree with about half of her analysis, especially concerning her implication that we must empathize with people who willfully choose to remain ignorant, but she does make some good points. The piece is worth a read. (about 10 minutes)

I often wonder how many of the education reformers who love standardized tests could actually pass one of them. After all, most of the knowledge and skills students are asked to recall are not required in adult life. But you know these exams are really out of touch when a writer is unable to answer the questions based on her poems. Her analysis is amusing, in a weird sorta way: “Texas, please know, this was not the author’s purpose in writing this poem.” (about 10 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

The BBC World Service has a new podcast about 50 things that made the modern economy. Sounds dull but it’s actually a wonderful series of short stories about technologies we take for granted that have had a big impact on our lives. It’s not necessary to listen in order so try out the series with their episode on the iPhone, which is actually about how government research has found its way into almost every part of every smartphone. (8:58)

Speaking of the economy, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has been bouncing close to the 20,000 mark this week. And, according to the folks at Planet Money, that so-called “milestone” is completely meaningless. In this segment, they explain in simple language why “The Dow” offers little or no information about how the American economy is doing, and why you can and should ignore all the breathless reporting on that number. (17:40)

One video to watch when you have time

Considering their huge audience, you may have already seen this latest video from OK Go. But on the off chance you haven’t, enjoy not only a good song but also the amazing extreme slow motion effects that accompany it. The group has always had a wonderfully geeky (not to mention messy) visual style, so if you like this, explore YouTube to find more of it. And check out the making-off video to understand the complexity of those four minutes. (4:12)

Black Friday

Something to think about today when/if you consume what passes for news reporting in the US.

Any media outlet that talks about Black Friday as an actually important phenomenon is either ignorant or working hard to please their advertisers. Retailers offer very little in the way of actual discounts, they expose human panic and greed, and it’s all sort of ridiculous if not soul-robbing.

Today would be a good opportunity to find something far more positive to do than participate in the manufactured madness.