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Push, Pull, Browse, Read

Here’s one way to divide up the information world.

Four categories


For the purps of this discussion, I mean everything that’ll let you know on its own, it’ll blong or ring or hum or blink or sigh.

Many apps overnotify you about everything, making you hate ‘em, constantly interrupting you all the time.

A much-behated category so it’s important to not put too much stuff here, and also to be able to toggle notifications on and off quickly (maybe in two tiers).

If you can manage both of those, this is actually a wonderful category.

“I don’t wanna be interrupted”; yeah, you’ve got to be able to temporarily mute this category.

It’s wonderful to be able to do something like draw or read or watch a movie knowing that if something important happens, I’ll know.

It’s fantastic because it lets you avoid the dread terrors of…


This is the category for when you want to read everything, but there’s no notification so there’s constantly checking-checking-checking.

Pull sucks!

Now, there are two kinds of people in the world.

Those who can check their pull stuff (for example, they have email set up as a pull-based system) in the morning, then go to work, focused on work and never spending even a single thought on their pull stuff. Then, once work is done and the desk is clean, they can check their pull stuff again and calmly deal with anything in there.

Then, there are those that have ants in the brain. They try to work or read or think but they find themselves constantly checking-checking-checking, or thinking about checking, which is just as bad.

I’m one of these people. I realized this and got pretty good at eliminating all “pull”, but then it has sneaked back in after device changes or platform updates or broken workflows or new communities.

Pull is addictive like a slot machine or a scratch ticket. You refresh and “ooh, you got a like”.

So many sites are set up to favor pull (because it’s an addictive anti-pattern and because ads are not palatable to push).


I need to develop a less completionist mindset for when I just wanna browse and discover and learn curious things.

Browse is the category for where you don’t need to read everything, but you can find fun stuff drifting by.

As bad as it feels to be browsing mindlessly on dumb sites and forums, the refresh-refresh-refresh checking-checking-checking of pull sites and apps are way worse for me.

After being really deep in pull hell, browsing can actually start to feel really great by comparison. I have an RSS/Atom app with tons of groups and feeds, more than I could ever keep up with. It’s perfect for this type of browsing experience, reminds me of browsing Usenet groups except that the stuff in there is actually interesting because I subscribed to it at one time or another. It has microblogs and essays and magazine articles and even videos.


Pull and browse are enemies of focused, deliberate reading, which is difficult when the lure of refresh-check-pull is so strong. I briefly had a pretty nifty setup with Calibre’s wonderful RSS->ebook setup. It’d do a pretty good job of fetching and converting the pages so you could make, for example, a cozy li’l weekly hacking journal out of I was happy: I had eliminated pull, I had my most important stuff on push, and I’d catch up on Sundays reading nerd stuff on e-ink.

That setup slipped away as some of the push workflows broke down and left me back in pull-land and maybe it’s for the best: is “reading every single article on” really a better use of my hours than a good book? works better for the browse mindset: haphazard, discoverly, non-committal.

I’m keeping the solution in my mental toolbox since that tech didn’t stop working (it was push stuff and notifications that did, as I switched from notmuch to Delta Chat and from Android to iOS). Maybe I’ll figure out a set of feeds that I do wanna read every week and it’s non-interactive enough to be suitable for e-ink.

The Slow Push

One experiment from a few years back, with mediocre results so far, is “the slow push”. It’s like push but it only gets to blong you once per four hours or once per hour or once per day.

The problem is that there’s a risk that you’ll start pull check-check-checking in between those hours.


How to actually get to those three ideals, I don’t know. Now I have a signpost; time to make a roadmap.