Have I Read Everything on the Internet?

I work in news. Some days I can barely make it to the refrigerator to grab my lunch. Other days, I do practically nothing. It’s the nature of the business. On the latter days, a former coworker and I used to joke that we’d “finished the Internet,” as in, “I’ve read everything on the Internet, want to go get a smoothie?”

Obviously it is impossible to read everything on the internet, in a literal sense, but lately I’ve been finding these strange loops in my reading habits online, where I find myself back at an article that I’ve already read, though my path to get there was different.

An example:

Wired Magazine recently celebrated 20 years of publishing by producing a special issue with some of the best articles from the past 20 years. This anthology included Disneyland with the Death Penalty by William Gibson, from the Sept./Oct. 1993 issue. I am a tablet subscriber to Wired and read the article, along with most of the special issue, during one of those slow days at work. Just last weekend, I picked up a book that I had purchased after reading an article on the Nieman Journalism Lab site about journalists learning to code. That book: a collection of essays, forewords and speeches by William Gibson, Distrust that Particular Flavor.

Not being good with names, and not being a particular fan of science fiction, I had no idea who William Gibson was, until I made it to about the halfway point of the book, and came across “Disneyland with the Death Penalty” again, which got me thinking about this particular circular phenomenon.

In this case, the reference came from two different media entities, but just as often I find that I read an article straight off the homepage of something and a few weeks later circle back to it through a Facebook or Twitter recommendation. Sometimes it’s been so long since I read the article the first time that I end up reading several paragraphs before the deja vu feeling sets in.

Some days it feels like I could never read everything I want to read on the homepages and twitter feeds of my favorite news sites. But on other days I find myself wondering if there is really that much new out there. When you narrow your sights from “everything on the internet” to everything worth reading on the internet, the list sometimes seems very short, indeed.