There's so much great stuff to read on the internet, from fascinating new science that furthers our understanding of how our bodies work, to what's happening on the surface of Mars. There are quick articles that will take you fewer than five minutes to read, but there are also long-form, investigative pieces, thoughtful essays, brilliant blog posts, surprisingly enlightening in-depth profiles and great short fiction.
In the face of this abundance, if you're at all curious about the world, you probably have the same problem I do: You get to the point where you have 15 or 20 browser tabs open, all for articles you want to read but haven't yet.
Of course, there are limits — according to this video and other reports online, you can have up to 80-something windows open at once if you use the Chrome browser, and have enough RAM to support them all. I've never gotten that far, though not for lack of trying. I know I'm not the only person who has crashed her computer because I had too many tabs open.
And I know I'm also not alone in feeling bad about my open-tab buildup. It's like any guilty secret. When I show a friend something on my computer, I pull up a new window, so they can't see all the tabs I already have open. I routinely force myself to close windows if they've been open too long, giving myself a talking-to as I hit those tiny Xes.
Comparing open tabs to unread books
Recently, I was thrilled to get some absolution from writer Rachel Withers, who has open-tab-itis. "Whenever I sit down to have a tab-reading or -clearing moment, I inevitably open five more. And just as I struggle to walk out of movies I don’t like, I struggle to close articles I haven’t finished," she writes.
Withers compares her gazillions of open tabs to the Japanese idea of tsundoku, the concept of buying books that pile up unread — and then buying more books anyway. "The word 'doku' can be used as a verb to mean 'reading'. The 'tsun' in 'tsundoku' originates in 'tsumu' — a word meaning 'to pile up'. So when put together, 'tsundoku' has the meaning of buying reading material and piling it up," according to the BBC, which says the term dates back to at least the 1800s.
Author Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls a collection of these books an "antilibrary" and writes that, "Read books are far less valuable than unread ones," in a longer essay on the topic. Using that logic, keeping a lot of tabs open is the online equivalent of tsundoku, and just as we should feel comfortable letting the books pile up, so should we find peace with our too-many-tabs-open habit.
As a person who also suffers from tsundoku (I'm in great company as this Reddit thread proves), I found this analogy both heartening and liberating. I don't need to feel shame over my tabs! I'm already over my book-hoarding (I mean book-collecting) tendencies.
Sure, I could use one of a number of tab-organization devices like OneTab or Tab Snooze — and when I'm working on a project with a number of related tabs, those tools are invaluable. But when it comes to all the random esoterica that I love to read, I'm going to keep it simple. My new plan is to just open a new window and throw my "to read" tabs in there, to keep them out of the window I'm working in. That will help my productivity while I'm at work, without letting my tab shame keep me from reading all the wonderful free ideas and writing that's out there. And maybe it makes sense to take some time every couple days for "tab-reading" so I can dig deep into some of the great stuff I've missed.
Now I just need to get more RAM.