The second I woke up this morning, I picked up my phone and checked my email before catching up on Instagram and Twitter. I spent the next eight or so hours switching between browser tabs for Gmail, Zoom, and Google Docs to work. Any time I took a break, I was back scrolling through social media or reading a few chapters of an e-book on my iPad. When I wrapped up work, I did an hour-long workout using the Nike Training Club app on my phone. Before bed, I watched two episodes of Schitt’s Creek.
It’s not hyperbolic to say that almost all the news these days is bad news. A deadly, economically crippling pandemic has now dragged into its seventh month. Wildfires sparked by climate change are still ravaging the West Coast. The country’s political landscape has descended into republic-threatening chaos, and racial, cultural, and economic inequalities are as stark and divisive as ever.
Not only is it all bad — it’s also all around us. Social media usage has increased as people spend more time at home due to Covid-19, and likewise, Nielsen reports that weekly TV watching grew by 1 billion hours…
For those who live with hypochondria, myself included, this pandemic has added layers to our concerns around health. Many of us have spent hours Googling risks and symptoms. And as science has revealed more information about the virus and illness, some of it comforting (it’s probably not foodborne), some of it terrifying (some sufferers’ symptoms seem to be lingering for months), the anxieties have shifted, evolved — and persisted.
Optimize Me is an Elemental column exploring (and fact-checking) the weirdest self-improvement trends. It comes out every Tuesday.
My friend Meggie consumes everything at 1.5x speed. She started doing it to zoom through work training videos and recordings of meetings she has to watch for her job at Google. Then she started speeding up the podcasts and audiobooks she listens to on her two-hour daily commute. She estimates she listens to 10 hours of audio content a week and can go through a couple of books a month this way.
“It’s almost like I can gameify [reading] by listening at…