I talk too much.
I have never been diagnosed with ADD, but I’m pretty sure I have it.
In order to actually listen to people, I have to really focus. Hard. And still sometimes my mind wanders.
Sometimes, when I’m struggling to listen to someone, I find that it helps to just pretend to listen, perform it, basically, with the nods and eye contact and all. Faking it helps me get out of my own head, and hopefully back to the listening. But it requires sustained focus. In other words: work.
I’m aware of the problem, and I’m working on it.
And, apparently, almost everybody everywhere thinks they’re a much better listener than their friends and co-workers say they actually are. That doesn’t surprise me at all.
I think it’s pretty easy to draw a straight line between our collective problem with listening and the way that the internet fragments our attention, reducing our ability to focus.
In this blog post, I’ll try to connect that line (basically: the internet makes us bad listeners) and then point out some of the ways that listening is built into Readup.
First of all, reading is listening.
They’re basically the same thing.
When you read something, you’re not the one coming up with the words. You’re listening to someone else’s words, someone else’s speech.
With that in mind, imagine the internet as a giant cluster of communication channels, nothing more and nothing less. After all, communication is the bedrock for everything, from e-commerce to gaming, and even more advanced web technology (blockchain, for example) can be understood as communication platforms to an extent.
An alien from outer space wouldn’t be able to see much of a difference between what I’m doing right now (blogging, to an audience of Readers on Readup) and what billions of other people do all the time – post stuff on social media.
This is what we do online. We blast updates and information all over the place.
But not all blasts are created equal!
To illustrate how a Readup post is fundamentally distinct from a Twitter post, I’ll introduce a metaphor: A living room. Or a salon, perhaps. This room is a Readup comment thread. Everyone in this room is holding the same article in their hands. It’s a good article. Everyone in this room read the article. Some people are talking about it. Not everybody. But several.
Nobody had to read it. Everybody chose to read it.
In this room, agreeing or disagreeing isn’t the point. It still happens a lot, and it’s interesting either way, but the point is that everybody has listened to the same thing, and so everybody wants to know what everybody else has to say about the thing they read.
Good conversations require mutual understanding and shared information.
Amongst Readers, opinions and feelings are bound to diverge, but the core experience is still shared and universal. You read together. You listened together. This puts you in a really good space to start listening to each other.
On Readup, every single conversation starts with a mutual-listening expereince - reading.
I have been reading on Readup so religiously that most other sites feel weird now. Reddit and Hacker News especially. The comment threads still feel like rooms, but they’re really packed and wild. More like a mosh pit than a living room. Interesting conversations happen (which is good) but they tend to invite abuse (which is bad).
Plus, I find it disorienting to have to constantly remind myself that most of the people in a given conversation haven’t actually read the article in question. There’s a major tax on your brainspace when you have to be skeptical of every single commenter on every single article: Did A read B? Did X read Y? On Readup you never have to have those thoughts.
Then there’s Facebook and Twitter. Posting there is nothing like a room. It feels like going out into the street with a megaphone. These platforms incentivize screaming. It pays to pipe up. And listening does nothing. So nobody does it.
The scariest part of all is that you might not even be “speaking out” at all. It might be a mirage.
Perhaps the best way to visualize Twitter is by imagining a stadium full of people, collectively screaming into a void. Amplifying the noise, a megatron scans the crowds and everyone is engaged in a perpetual battle for a few seconds with the big mic on the big screen. Meanwhile, nobody can hear anything that anybody is saying.
By the way, I have really tried to listen to Twitter. Or, tried to listen on Twitter. You know what I mean. I tried to use Twitter to listen. No surprise: No dice.
When Readup launched the Twitter integration, I even tweeted a bit. I did what the thing told me to do. I made some noise. Or, I tried to at least. But that didn’t work either.
Pretty much every experience I have ever had on Twitter has left me feeling duped. Too much noise. Not enough signal. Static everywhere. The zone, flooded with shit. Years after the problem was identified, it’s still flooded. And still shit. To subvert something that attacks your decision-making skills is a mindfuck. More brain tax. That means less time to focus on reading, on listening.
One of my favorite things about Readup is that I can see other people reading things that I have recommended. It’s a subtle joy, but also quite profound.
Earlier this week, I got six people to read The Man Who Sailed His House, a 40-minute GQ feature that I absolutely loved. As I watched that number slowly climb over the course of the day, I thought about each one of those people spending forty minutes – forty whole minutes! – on that article, and it really mattered to me.
Forty minutes is a lot of listening time!
When we’re talking about an article that long, I can’t compare a Readup-verified Read to a like or comment on any other platform. It’s like night and day. Reads are deep listens. Likes are more like fragments of thought, often impulsive. They are flicks of the finger, actions that require so little brain power they’re hard to distinguish from the actions of automatons.