Is Alan Jacobs Spying on Me?

I’m about half-way through Alan Jacobs’ The Pleasure of Reading in an Age of Distraction, which is, incidentally, quite a pleasurable read. In the section I just finished Jacobs, professor of English at Wheaton College, discusses his online reading habits and though, aside from the bit about his iPhone (which I don’t own), his daily experience almost matches my own. I felt as though I could have written the section—more than that, I felt like he was spying on me:

I’ve been a devoted reader almost all my life, and for twenty-five years I’ve been a teacher of literature, but I am as vulnerable to distractions as anyone this side of John Self. A typical day for me begins with a consultation of my RSS reader: I subscribe to about two hundred feeds, and on any given morning I find about a hundred updates to scan, some of which I load in my browser. A few of those I read in full, many I just look over; some go into a service called Instapaper to read later, while others get bookmarked. I also have a blog, an online commonplace book, and a Twitter account, so a good deal of what I read gets redirected to those destinations. They all get morning attention as well, along with whatever email came in during the night.

That would be enough to occupy any sane person, but that RSS reader repopulates itself throughout the day; the people I follow on Twitter tweet away; email continues to trickle, or on some days to flood, in. I could have all of these information channels keep me informed of their updates, but I have a modicum of common sense and so have disabled notifications, so that if I want to know what’s new I have to make a point of checking. I would love to be able to report that I get so absorbed in my work that I never do that, but alas, I rotate through the possibilities for informational novelty often. (I actually do not know how often and prefer not to think about it.) Moreover, I have access to all these sources of stimulation on my iPhone, which I have with me most of the time. In fact, I am very rarely without the option of going online.

Alan Jacobs, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 79.