How to Find Good Information
And some examples of "Good Information"
A subscriber recently asked me how I decide what information to consume.
The first step is to distinguish good info from junk info. Good info is that which changes you, either by making you think or act differently, or by changing the certainty with which you already think or act. Junk info is the opposite; you’re exactly the same after consuming it as before.
So how to find info that changes you?
There are two ways people obtain info online: fishing and hunting.
Fishing is passive. You don’t know what you want to know and just casually scan the screen till something catches your interest. Examples include scrolling social media, browsing news websites, and idly refreshing the YouTube home page.
Hunting, on the other hand, is an active process. You have a clear idea what you want to know about and consciously search for it. Basically, any time you’re researching something, you’re hunting.
We fish to find questions to ask, and we hunt to find answers. We fish to widen knowledge, and we hunt to deepen it.
Most people spend the vast majority of their time in a passive state of fishing. To make matters worse, they fish in polluted waters — like the average social media feed and the average news website — which are full of junk info that they’ll never use. Idle curiosity is just as easily attracted to junk info as to good info, so passive browsing in polluted waters quickly leads to intellectual obesity.
Although active hunting is generally a better use of time than passive fishing, some fishing is needed in order to know what to hunt for. In such cases, it’s best to fish in fresh and bountiful waters, free of junk and full of treasure. The ideal fishing waters should expose you to a lot of useful info within a given duration of fishing, with minimal distractions and maximum getting to the point.
In light of all this, here are my favored fishing waters:
1. Twitter (X)
A poorly curated social media feed is one of the worst fishing waters, but a well-curated feed is one of the very best. On Twitter I follow over 600 accounts, but I seldom browse my unfiltered feed, instead creating lists of select accounts for a particular purpose, or browsing the timelines of individual accounts.
I tend to consume two types of content on Twitter: data (what to think) and wisdom (how to think). I like my data as raw as possible, so I tend toward primary sources like academic papers. With wisdom I don’t care where it comes from, because good sense doesn’t need references.
Of course, my Twitter feeds are geared for my needs as a writer, but you can curate your own feeds for the kind of info that you value. What matters most is that you actively curate and take charge of what you are seeing, for otherwise your senses will be hijacked by those wishing to commodify your attention.
2. News Sources
If I wasn’t a writer who’s expected to have opinions on things, I wouldn’t bother following the news. But I am, so I must. The worst mistake a news consumer can make is to get all their info from a single source, so I regularly switch up my news sources between outlets of clashing editorial stances. I also use news aggregators like AllSides and GroundNews, which allow me to compare how different outlets are covering the same event, so I learn not just the news but also how it’s being spun.
I love podcasts because, unlike text, audio can be consumed while doing other things — driving, cooking, jogging, etc — making them a more time-efficient source of info. As I’ve mentioned, my favorite podcast is Chris Williamson’s Modern Wisdom. Every episode is packed with info, making it an effective method of fishing and, if you use the search feature, also a good way to start a hunt. I don’t get the time to consistently listen to other podcasts, but of the ones I’ve flirted with, I like Infinite Loops and Conversations with Tyler most.
I spend most of my reading time on academic studies because I need hard data to understand what’s going on. However, a well-written essay can offer a writer things beside pure data — like inspiration — so I sometimes use Substack Notes to find good essays. I’m also subscribed to many other Substackers, 10 of which you’ll find recommended on my home page (I’ll recommend more as I read more).
So, those are my fishing waters, which I rely on for most of my daily information.
If you wish to know what kinds of treasure lurk in these waters, here are the 10 most interesting things I found this month: