Clay Shirky: What I Read

The writer and NYU professor explains his Media Diet

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How do other people deal with the torrent of information that pours down on us all? Do they have some secret? Perhaps. We are asking various friends and colleagues who seem well-informed to describe their media diets. This is from an interview with Clay Shirky, a prominent thinker on the Internet and its social and economic consequences. He is the author of Here Comes Everybody and a forthcoming book called Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. He also teaches about new media at New York University and consults for a wide-range of clients including the BBC, the U.S. Library of Congress and Nokia.
In the morning, I basically check two things. The obvious one is Twitter. I use Tweet Deck for friends, commentators and media outlets. The people I followed after seeing their tweets were @mike_FTW, Paul Kedrosky, Joe Solomon and Newt Gingrich.

After I scan Twitter I check Netvibes, a module-based RSS reader. It's a lovely piece of software. My main source for world news is Al Jazeera. The rest of the RSS stuff is all feeds from opinionated aggregators. I look for relevant research, interesting themes and funny stories on sites like 3quarksdaily, Crooked Timber, Boing Boing and Slashdot. On Twitter and Netvibes, if I see something I want to read, I just open up a string of tabs. Usually between one and two dozen depending on what I see.

The only blog I read where I read it for a specific blogger's voice is Sady Doyle at Tiger Beatdown. I've read every word that Sady's written. She would be number one. If I had to pick two other bloggers it'd be Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing and Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber.

For print media, we subscribe to the New York Times (though I generally only read the Times on the weekend), The New Yorker and The Atlantic. Neither of those really cover breaking news so I pile them up and save them for plane rides.

Recently there's been an enormous spate of media books: Nick Carr's The Shallows, Nick Bilton's I Live in the Future and Here's How It Works and Tim Wu's The Master Switch.

As for radio, we're members of the Chardonnay-swilling East Coast media elite so we listen to NPR. We alternate between listening to it and cursing the fund drives. Completely standard. We listen to Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Love Radio Lab. Love This American Life. Used to love Prairie Home Companion but I've gone off that and I can't say exactly why. Speaking of Faith is my least favorite show on the radio. Me and my wife will instantly turn it off.

In general, there's no real breaking news that matters to me. I don't have any alerts or notifications on any piece of software I use. My phone is on silent ring, nothing alerts me when I get a Tweet and my e-mail doesn't tell me when messages arrive.

I also don't read any of the big tech aggregators. Knowing that, for instance, Google just bought Blogger, isn't that useful for me to hear today rather than tomorrow.  Some of Michael Arrington's stuff I think is an example of the worst kind of breaking news. The kind of Apple Insider stuff where they publish something every day to satisfy the news cycle. It's gossip coverage like following movie stars and it distracts me from thinking longer form thoughts.

Lots of people asked me "Would you like to write something about the iPad?" and I say "send me one." I'm not going to open my mouth about hardware I've never held in my hands.

For decades, I religiously read the op-ed pages of the New York Times but recently I've stopped because every op-ed is so closely tied to a newspeg that the thinking never gets very far from current events. So I've recently gotten away from the daily news cycle. I've got a weekly clock cycle and a monthly clock cycle. Time is a precious commodity. Increasingly, I'm trying to maximize it.

Earlier on, sites like and Slashdot had a much more sedate pace. Then Google acquired Blogger in 2003 and it was the single most synchronized event of the blogosphere. That was the moment when the pattern became clear to everybody. Dan Gillmor broke the story and, because it drove so much traffic, that sharpened people's minds. Things like Gizmodo, Engadget and Nick Denton's Gawker model. It was the emergence of testing what people were in to, like gossip and seeing the way a breaking tech story could drive so much traffic. It convinced people in the middle of the decade that this was something to pursue.

What are my guilty pleasures? Given the fact that media's my job—I don't feel much guilt. There's no equivalent of eating Häagen-Dazs out of the box. It's not exactly a guilty pleasure but Richard Rorty, the pragmatist, is just such a good writer and I've been reading him a lot for the last 6 months. Also, maybe The Awl—Alex Balk and Choire Sicha's thing. Choire was one of the earlier and—in my opinion—best voices of Gawker in the same way that Ana Marie Cox will always be Wonkette to me. In fact, I stopped reading Wonkette after she stopped blogging there.

That's the thing about this job. If you think about it, I suppose the guilty pleasure is gardening or cooking. It's about getting away from media consumption and making linguine instead.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.