One Month of Random Article Reading

Earlier in the month, I wrote about one small way I am battling decision fatigue: I wrote a script to select one random article from the magazines I read. Each morning, I run my script, find out what article has been selected, and the locate the magazine. I take it out on the deck along with my breakfast, and proceed to sit in the quiet morning air and read the article. Usually, I’ll snap a photo of the article and post it on Twitter. For instance, here is the one from this morning

I have been reading random articles from my subscriptions for the last month, and I am really enjoying it. I went into this simply trying to eliminate a decision from my day, but it turns out there has been a number of benefits.

First, because the selection is random, and because I am committed to reading whatever is selected each day, I’ve ended up reading articles I wouldn’t have selected on my own–many of which have turned out to be fascinating, well written, insightful, and even heart-wrenching. The randomness, and the commitment to read whatever is selected expands the range of what I read, which is a good thing.

Second, it provides a nice break in my morning routine. I usually end up reading my article just after my morning walk and just before my workout; or just after my workout and just before I start work for the day. It is a nice buffer to have.

Third, because I post what I am reading on Twitter, I pay closer attention to the authors of the articles. If they have a presence on Twitter, I try to tag them, and searching for them helps me learn more about them, and I discover more of what they have written. An unexpected side-effect of this is that sometimes my post reminds writers that there are people out there reading what they have written. Just this morning, for instance, I saw this quote tweet about the post I made on yesterday’s morning reading:

There is a problem, however. I find that though I am reading at least one feature article every day, The list of articles to read seems to grow week-to-week. I blame the New Yorker. It is a weekly magazine, instead of a monthly. Where I might get 4-6 features in a regular monthly magazine, I get 4-6 features a week in the New Yorker. It also skews the random selection a bit: with more New Yorker articles, there is a greater chance that there will be a New Yorker article selected. I’ve considered possible solutions to this, but haven’t come up with a good one yet.

My script automatically removes a selected article from the “to-read” list, but I still track this in the magazine itself. When I finish reading an article, I cross it off in the table of contents, like this:

Articles crossed off in the table of contents.

One unexpected side-effect of this is the joy I feel upon crossing off the last feature article in a given issue. This happened recently with an issue of Outside Magazine. I’d read all of the articles, and crossed off the last one. I took the magazine off the pile and added it to the week’s recycling.

At present there is a fairly large stack of issues with some, but not all, of the articles crossed off. The pile seems to grow, but skimming through it, I can see at least a half dozen issues where only one or two articles remain unread. I imagine there will be a week in the near future where I may complete 4 or 5 issues and the pile will suddenly shrink.

Until now, I have had to run my script on my local computer, which meant that when I was away from home, I’d have to run the script in advance to know what to read each day while I was gone. But this weekend, I fixed that problem. The text files I use to maintain my “to-read” and “read” lists are stored in Dropbox. I created an Apple Shortcut that does essentially the same thing as my shell script. I now can say to my phone, “Hey Siri, select a random article” and Siri will reply with the name of the random article I should read (the shortcut also moves the article to my read list).

The result when I asked Siri to select a random article.
The result when I asked Siri to select a random article.

Geeky technology aside, I am really enjoying my mornings on the deck reading random articles. Looking ahead, I’m trying to figure out what I’ll do once the temperature really starts to drop. Probably I can just sit out there with my coat and hat and enjoy the cold fresh air. That sounds good at the edge of summer when the temperatures are still uncomfortably warm, but we’ll have to see how that works in practice.

Written on September 25, 2022.

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