On fishing and hunting for information

I recently read an interesting essay about how to find good information. It contains an analogy that stuck with me, cleverly distinguishing between two ways people find information online: fishing and hunting.

Instead of attempting to paraphrase, I’ll share the description verbatim because it’s well-written and to the point:

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.

With the internet being an infinite sea of information, we've all at some point found ourselves mindlessly and unconsciously “fishing” for that next dopamine hit. I've been a victim of this bait more times than I'd like to admit.

But in my effort to be more mindful of my habits, I've experimented with some strategies to maintain control over what I consume by choosing which waters I fish in.

On Twitter/X, I’ve tailored my follow list. I consciously follow accounts that mirror my evolving interests, from tech startups to philosophy and geopolitics. Curated lists have also been really valuable. They allow me to focus on specific topics and related accounts without getting sidetracked. The default 'For You' feed is basically a no-go for me because it can often feel like a cesspool.

YouTube is a trickier beast. While it's incredibly easy to go down the infamous rabbit hole of suggested videos, I've put up a few safeguards. I subscribe only to channels and podcasts that resonate with my interests, I add to the “watch later” playlist very liberally and keep going back to it, and I use the “not interested” feedback option more than I do on other platforms. The goal is to overwhelm my feed with content from my curated channels.

For email sanity, newsletters from Substack and similar platforms have been a game-changer. I've realized that subscribing to topic-based newsletters keeps my inbox a place of growth and new information, rather than just spam and promotions.

When it comes to “hunting” for information, ChatGPT is quickly displacing Google for me. While every response requires a pinch of salt and some fact-checking, it’s an excellent start to get a basic understanding of a topic and navigate to more detailed resources. Wikipedia is also a great way to discover unexpected connections and find even more sources.

And when I want to go deeper, there's no better way to learn than to read books from primary sources or take courses so I can learn with a group.

Why does any of this matter?

In recent years, we’ve done a pretty good job of raising awareness about good and bad eating habits. "You are what you eat" has cemented its importance in our diets. It's about time we extended the same caution to our information consumption to maintain and improve our intellectual health. After all, you become what you consume.