Today marks the half-year anniversary of Rhetsy, and while half a year doesn’t sound like much to me as I write it out, it means that, for the past six months, I’ve been collecting links on a daily basis and synthesizing them weekly for general consumption. On the one hand, it’s not a lot of work, but on the other, when I multiply by six months the time I’ve spent on it, Rhetsy begins to occupy just a bit more of my scholarly identity. So congratulations to me, I guess.
The feedback I’ve received on Rhetsy has been universally positive, which makes sense, considering that a single (unsubscribable) email per week is a pretty small price to pay for its potential benefit. If there’s one question that people ask me about it, it’s about the process. When I was at the RSA Institute a few weeks ago, the question came up again in a couple of contexts, and so I thought I’d write a little bit about my process, and share it for this issue as a way of marking the milestone.
When I started up Rhetsy, I had in mind a handful of inspirational/aspirational newsletters (which I’ve written about before), and the name itself, which was a mashup of rhetoric and Etsy. With the decline in (my own) blogging, my feeling was that part of what I’d lost was the benefit of link blogs, trusted voices who would point my attention to interesting resources and essays. Newsletters like Brain Pickings and 5IT were beginning to fill that gap for me, but I thought I’d try my hand at it myself.
And really, the biggest change in my own reading and writing has been attentional. I’ve been using Instapaper for a few years now, mainly because I can save links to it from my desktop browser as well as a couple of different tools on my iPad (namely, Safari and Tweetbot). I still need to be better about organizing on Instapaper (use your folders, please!), but mainly, I lowered my threshold for bookmarking from “Will I likely use this later?” to “Is this interesting?” If an essay or a resource looks interesting to me, I bookmark it. I don’t share as much on Facebook or Twitter as I used to; instead, I go back into that bookmark archive on a weekly basis (usually Monday mornings, but sometimes Sunday afternoons), and read things more closely. Then I choose 4-5 items that seem to me to be the most shareable, and I build an issue of Rhetsy around them.
I have a few rules of thumb: first, I don’t share academic writing, although I bookmark a fair share of that kind of work. My test here is whether or not I would feel comfortable asking my undergraduate students to read it, on the spur of the moment. So I’m looking for work that stands on its own, is addressed to a general audience, and generally speaking, targets an issue of some broader interest. Second, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the difference between “interesting” and “interesting to me.” Undoubtedly, this skews what I share towards certain topics and away from others; one of these days, I’m going to aggregate my newsletter and see what patterns have emerged. Third, I try to be fairly timely, but that’s not a hard-and-fast requirement. Sometimes, I pull from older material because I’ve happened upon it that week. At the same time, for the most part, I try not to be too “current events” in my approach. Finally, and this is mostly implicit for me, I find value in reading material even when I don’t really agree with it, so I try not to restrict myself to material that I would endorse. This isn’t often an issue, but I do think about it from time to time.
What I find is that, as I look back through my bookmarks, certain patterns do emerge from time to time, and I try to bring those out through juxtaposition when they do. I don’t “rank” Rhetsy items, but I do treat them a bit like a playlist (cf. High Fidelity). Maybe with a few less rules, though.
I think that my single most important rule has been to approach Rhetsy in a way such that it’s not a burden. That is, the difference in time and effort for me between publishing Rhetsy and not is only a couple of hours a week, and so far, those hours haven’t been too much of an imposition. I usually start thinking about it on Saturday or Sunday, think about when I’m going to have time to do it, and then do it at that time. Otherwise, I’m just saving items like I normally would. The added layer of connection, juxtaposition, and synthesis that Rhetsy permits me has been more than worth it–if you want to see how, check out my closing keynote from IDRS this April, and as you do, keep in mind that, by my count, 6 or 7 of the “sources” I use appeared in Rhetsy at some point.