My 2016 in Media and Culture: A Year in Review

 •  Filed under total noise, posts

One of my quirks is an obsession with trying to perfect my "media diet." I've written before about the problem of Total Noise and how it affects our world in countless ways. As we close the book on 2016 and look forward to 2017, it's something I continue thinking about as a central and representative aspect of modern life. It's not a problem I can solve for everyone, but it's something I can work on in my own life by reflecting on the information and entertainment I consume and why.

You may also be surprised to discover that I don't read the news, at least not as we tend to understand "reading the news." If you're regularly online in today's world, as I am, the "news" is unavoidable and omnipresent.[1] Almost everything I need to know about what's going on "out there" trickles down through Twitter in one form or another, and I spend enough time on my feed that it feels less like "reading the news" and more like "the news is eternal and ever-expanding, and one person can't possibly know enough about the world to have informed opinions, so what's the point?"

It's a bit of a rabbit hole. My usual line is "I don't read the news, but I read The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Vox, The Guardian, Reason, and several other sites that I trust to bring me news through analysis and commentary.[2]"

I also don't watch a lot of TV.[3] This isn't some sort of humble brag. In fact, I'm sometimes so out of the loop with my friends that I wish I had a greater appetite for TV. Sure, I've gone through phases with Netflix -- including binging this year on Making a Murderer, Love, Stranger Things, Bloodlines, and Broadchurch -- but I've lost count of how many series I've missed out on.[4]

If I don't "read the news" and don't watch a lot of TV and movies, what is my media diet? In my former life as a graduate student in the humanities, I used to read a lot of fiction, but regrettably, 2016 was not a big year for reading.[5] I still play video games when I can, although the desire to play ebbs and flows with the quality of games that come out.

I've separated my media consumption in 2016 by theme. Enjoy!

Running

I've been an uncommitted runner since my early-20s, when I decided I needed a physical hobby to stay in shape. I returned to it in 2014 and became semi-committed in the spring of 2015. I took the winter off because of some other demands on my time, but in 2016 I trained for my first marathon and set a personal best in the half-marathon.[6]

Over that time, I've read a lot of books about running, from training theory and science to non-fiction and memoir. I won't go through all of them, but here are a few titles I'd recommend for any fledgling or veteran runners.

  • How Bad Do You Want It? and 80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald
  • Daniels' Running Formula by Jack Daniels, Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger, and Run Faster from the 5k to the Marathon by Brad Hudson
  • Two Hours by Ed Caesar
  • Pre: The Story of America's Greatest Running Legend by Tom Jordan
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

I also rely on YouTubers, bloggers, and podcasters to keep me inspired and informed about how to be a better runner. I watch, read, and listen to all these guys regularly.

Sportsball(!~)

I've tried to learn more about professional running by reading LetsRun, especially during the Olympics and World Championships, but my main interest in professional sports is basketball. I also follow the Blue Jays since they put together a team worth watching, so I'm a proud Canadian bandwagoner.

Admittedly, I don't watch a ton of games or events except for the playoffs, World Series, and major championships.

Nonetheless, the analysis and discussion of basketball fascinates me. I won't list all of the nerdy basketball podcasts I listen to and publications I read, but here's a few worth checking out:

I only read one basketball book this year, but I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the sport.

  • Boys Among Men: How the Prep-to-Pro Generation Redefined the NBA and Sparked a Basketball Revolution by Jonathan Abrams

As for Blue Jays fandom, there's only a couple guys you should follow to know what you're talking about. They host Birds All Day and write for a few different places.

Music

I used to be a music enthusiast. Over time, my interest in music has waned, and I haven't been deeply into the scene for quite some time. I no longer keep up with new releases like I once did or obsessively curate end-of-year lists, nor do I spend all my time on forums discussing the newest buzz bands. I'll still go to shows occasionally, but it's not a huge part of my lifestyle.

At the end of 2016, I made an effort to listen to more music (I even patched together an end of year list, sort of). In 2017, I want to stay moderately up to date with what's new and noteworthy. There are three podcasts mostly aligned with my taste in music that I recommend:

I also follow Ian Cohen's work. His article on SPIN about 2016 in emo rock features some of the best albums of the year. Craig Manning is another music writer who does great work, including his retrospective on two of my favourite albums from the 2000s. For news and reviews, I usually go to Consequence of Sound, Chorus, or Pitchfork. When I need upbeat music for playlists, the blog of Neon Gold Records is a good place to start.

If you've stumbled across me on Twitter, you might know me as an #agingpoppunkfan. I glibly tweet about pop-punk with some frequency, but I sincerely enjoy the bands who still do the genre well, and this year I did a top 5 for kicks, including:

  • Martha - Blisters in the Pit of My Heart
  • PUP - The Dream is Over
  • Boston Manor - Be Nothing.
  • Modern Baseball - Holy Ghost
  • Direct Hit! - Wasted Mind

I didn't listen to enough music to write a proper top ten, but here are some other albums I enjoyed this year:

  • Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Denial
  • Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book
  • Pinegrove - Cardinal
  • Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide to Earth
  • The Hotelier - Goodness
  • The 1975 - I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
  • Butch Walker - Stay Gold
  • Jeff Rosenstock - Worry.
  • White Lung - Paradise
  • Jimmy Eat World - Integrity Blues
Tech, Web, Productivity, Education, Humour, and YouTube

CGP Grey and Brady Haran are two of my favourite YouTubers. Their podcast "Hello Internet" is a delight, and I listen to it each time there's a new one in my feed.

CGP Grey also has a podcast with Myke Hurley of Relay.FM called "Cortex". I haven't missed an episode.

On YouTube, I also enjoy Casually Explained and Nathan Zed's TheThirdPew. When I go through gaming phases, I occasionally watch Hutch, whom I partly blame for my Call of Duty 4 addiction during university. YouTube is also the home of MKBHD, whose high-quality tech reviews are useful and well-produced.

My favourite tech blog is MacStories. Despite the fanboyishness of that declaration, the content is too good for me to leave it out. If you own an Apple device and want to get the most out of it, MacStories is a must read.[7]

The education and tech writers I read frequently include Audrey Watters, Mike Caulfield, David Wiley, and Clint Lalonde.

Whenever I need an easy laugh, I go to my Reddit front page, the home of every joke, story, meme, gag, and hoax on the internet.

Gaming

I only make time to game when there's a game worth playing. Otherwise, I game when I can, and I play iOS games when I can't sleep.

The best game of the year came from the best franchise in the industry: Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.

Battlefield 1 by DICE and EA has rejuvenated my love for FPS multiplayer online. It is a spectacular and riveting work that provides endless hours of entertainment.

I played a lot of Assassin's Creed: Syndicate in November. I will play any open world stealth game until I'm old and gray.

On iOS, I sunk way too much time into Super Mario Run, Hill Climb Racing 2, Alto's Adventure, Rayman Legends, and The Trail. Check out the ones I've linked if you're looking for fun and memorable mobile gaming. I'm also looking forward to Reign, which I downloaded yesterday.

Rocket League and ORION: Dino Horde are the best co-op multiplayer games to play over drinks since I was old enough to do so.

The best gaming experience in sports is still the NBA 2K series, although I haven't played much of the latest. MLB: The Show is also worth a look if you're into baseball.

I forget when Firewatch came out, but it was a memorable experience when I played it.

Gaming journalism is a bit of a mess. I try to read First Person Scholar occassionally, and The Ringer's Jason Concepcion is doing some good stuff on games, but if you know of any publications that provide intelligent gaming commentary and analysis, let me know.

Publications and Aggregators

I can't possibly list or remember them all, but I collect and read a lot of articles on Pocket from publications, which commonly include The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Vox, The Guardian, Reason, Longreads, The Rumpus, The New Inquiry, The LA Review of Books, The AV Club, LitHub, The New York Review of Books, The Ringer, Aeon.co, The Walrus, New Republic, The Millions, Quartz, FiveThirtyEight, New York Magazine, The Undefeated, Wired, and VerySmartBrothas.

Twitter

I spend far too much time on Twitter that should be spent reading books, exercising, having a social life, learning, or working on side-projects. Nontheless, I've become a late adopter, despite having an account since 2009 and not really caring about it until 2014. Twitter has emerged as a staple in my media diet because of all the reasons people cite. It is a hub for online activity. It's also endlessly distracting, but that's a fair tradeoff for a stream of content, links, and conversation from almost every person and publication I mentioned already. You just have to know who to follow.

Most of the noteworthy people I follow are above, but here are a few others I recommend checking out:

2017

In 2017, I want to use more of my free time to read books, learn new things, and pick up new skills. I'm currently in a History course, which will help me with two of those, and it's inspiring me to broaden my horizons. I want to read more fiction and more non-fiction about history, science, strategy, philosophy, culture, and meaningful self-help.

My other priority, as always, is to increase my exposure to more diverse and eclectic viewpoints.

I have mixed feelings about the amount of TV and movies I watch (very little). I'd like to be a little more in the loop on pop culture outside of the internet, but at the same time, a lot of TV series and films just don't sustain my attention very well.

I told myself this fall that Game of Thrones is my "winter homework," but I haven't even started season 2, so I have a long way to go.

Thoughts on 2016 lists

Aside from the publications and curators I mentioned above, my media and culture diet has shifted over time towards people: writers, journalists, musicians, professionals, industry leaders, academics, activists, culture enthusiasts, and anyone with something interesting to say. Organizations still play an important role in enabling and providing platforms for that exceptional work, but I've found that tuning into the people doing the work has made it easier to cut through the Noise and figure out how to divvy up my attention.

If you found anything interesting here, or if there's anything you'd like to recommend, find me on social.


  1. I'll take this opportunity to recommend Ryan Holiday's columns on media at Observer, including "Want to Really Make America Great Again? Stop Reading the News." ↩︎

  2. To varying degrees of success, of course. Also, if you follow the right people on Twitter, you'll get enough news and noise to sustain you for a lifetime. ↩︎

  3. Relatively. ↩︎

  4. The ones I mentioned are all worth watching, although Bloodlines is catered very specifically for genre fans, and it hasn't been very well received past the first season. ↩︎

  5. Neither was 2015, really. This year will be different! ↩︎

  6. I should probably write about these things when they happen so I have a post to reference. Alas, you'll just have to trust me. ↩︎

  7. Almost all of my personal computing is on an iPad Air 2. I also use an iPhone. For my workflow, I prefer Google software, but apps available on iOS will keep me tied to Apple hardware for the foreseeable future. ↩︎