Primary vs. Secondary Content: A Strategy for Moderation

In a previous series on YouTube moderation, I grappled with how we can engage with the genuinely valuable and enjoyable content on YouTube and other social media/entertainment apps while still maintaining self-control. In this post, I’ll explore another strategy for approaching this dilemma: distinguishing between primary and secondary content.

I should probably find more descriptive terms (let me know if you have any ideas), but here’s how I’d define primary and secondary content:

  1. Primary Content is content that you are genuinely excited to consume. It is the best-quality, most helpful, and/or most engaging content you read, watch, or listen to.
  2. Secondary Content is content that you consume because (1) you’re overly fixated on a certain topic or (2) you’ve run out of primary content but feel an urge to fill your time with entertainment rather than silence.

I’ve observed that if I limit my consumption to primary content, I can experience the benefits of various entertainment mediums while still maintaining moderation. When I delve into secondary content, however, I’m far more likely to binge on that content and end up feeling miserable.

Secondary Content and Sports Fandom

Let me illustrate this through a humorous but very real struggle. I love the Sacramento Kings and the NBA in general. As the fan of a bad team, my two favorite times of year are the NBA draft (chance for the Kings to snag an exciting new prospect) and free agency (time for blockbuster trades and player movement across the league).

I know what qualifies as my sports primary content. These are the podcasts, Twitter threads, or YouTube videos that spark genuine excitement when they come across my feed. If I just consumed that content, my sports fandom would take up a significant but still reasonable amount of my time.

But my voracious appetite for Kings and NBA content usually doesn’t stop there. As an example of an over-fixation on a certain topic: when the Kings prized rookie, Keegan Murray, lit up the summer league, I didn’t just watch highlights or listen to a podcast or two. I stayed up late into the night, searching for any podcast, video, or article that remotely touched on his performance, even from sources I wouldn’t normally enjoy. The result was increasingly diminishing returns. What began as excitement for the Kings’ rookie, devolved into feeling silly for wasting so much time.

As an example of running out of primary content but preferring secondary content to silence: now is the dead time of the NBA season. No more draft, free agency, or summer league. After the deluge of content that was released during those periods, it has been difficult to adjust to the lack of news and content. Sometimes I’ll find myself searching out and mindlessly clicking on content I’m only mildly interested in, just to scratch that basketball itch.

Slaves to the Algorithm

If you think about it, the whole point of the “algorithm” for sites like YouTube, Netflix, and other apps is to rope you in and trap you with secondary content.

On YouTube, for example, your primary content comes from your subscriptions. Those are the creators that you’ve found valuable enough to subscribe to.

Your suggested video page picks up on topics that you’ve demonstrated interest in and recommends similar videos. Sometimes this results in finding new creators you enjoy (i.e. new primary content.) But just as often, the algorithm will recommend copycat creators or derivative content that is similar in topic but lower in quality.

This is how you can go down a rabbit hole and grow increasingly more miserable. Your fixation on a topic or desire to quench your boredom causes you to consume more and more from the algorithm, even as the content declines in quality.

In previous articles, I explored some practical strategies (see part 2 as well) for resisting the pull of the algorithm. One idea is to add any video that initially piques your interest to the “Watch Later” playlist. This creates an extra step for you to pause and evaluate if you really want to watch a particular video (primary content) or are just clicking impulsively (secondary content). Another strategy is to install DF YouTube to remove the suggested video page altogether.

Embracing Silence

“I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room”

Blaise Pascal

At my first job out of college, the work was menial enough that I could listen to audio content while I worked. This had its good moments (like listening to the entire Harry Potter series on Audible), but looking back, I realize that this freedom often made me feel unhappy and restless.

Why? The ability to listen to anything anytime caused me to develop a constant appetite for new content. Eventually, it became less about what I was listening to — it could even be a convicting sermon — and more about passing the time to get through the workday.

Our world of competing streaming services and constantly refreshing social media feeds promises a never-ending stream of primary content to entertain us. We buy into that promise and begin to crave that all our spare moments be filled with noise.

The result, however, is that we turn more and more to secondary content, which we watch just for the sake of watching. Like junk food, the more we binge on secondary content, the more addicted and unhealthy we become.

Embracing silence, in contrast, is like a muscle that grows the more we exercise it. Initially, we will feel uncomfortable. It will seem as if we are wasting our time or missing an opportunity to catch up on the flashiest new thing. In time, however, learning to enjoy silence will yield many fruitful benefits. To name a few:

  • Silence invites deeper reflection. Think of the difference between letting your mind wander during a walk or commute versus instinctively putting on a podcast.
  • Silence trains us so we can enjoy unhurried time in prayer, meditation, and study without growing bored or restless;
  • Silence allows us to focus on the present task at hand instead of always multi-tasking. An example would be simply enjoying a meal instead of reflexively watching a show.
  • Silence makes us feel we have more time. I find that when I take a break and simply rest without consuming anything, the break seems to last much longer than if I spent it scrolling on my phone.

Expanding Appetites

I ended the YouTube Moderation series with a reflection that strategies for moderation shouldn’t be our ultimate aim. I use the example of training wheels:

Training wheels assist beginners who are learning to ride a bike but are not yet skilled enough to balance on their own. Without training wheels, these individuals might teeter and fall, badly injuring themselves. I think the training wheel analogy is helpful. because it highlights the temporary nature of the various tactics I’ve proposed. These tactics are not ends in and of themselves, but help us as we go on to greater, more important pursuits.

In a similar vein, we shouldn’t be content to merely consume primary content and avoid secondary content. It does me little good, for example, if my only interest in life is basketball and the Sacramento Kings, no matter how disciplined I am in consuming primary sports-related content.

In addition to embracing silence, we should also seek to expand our appetites from content that merely entertains to content that informs and helps us grow. For me, I’ve been trying to push myself beyond my normal sports intake to seek out content on topics like fatherhood, personal finance, or health. These may not be as natural for me to listen to, but in the long run they will help me better lead and love my family.


Hopefully this discussion of primary and secondary content resonates and is helpful. Feel free to reach out and let me know what you think. Until next time!


Let the Day Go (and Tips for Waking Up)

Recently, I wrote about trying to fix my sleep habits, especially because of their connection with my morning devotions. I wanted to share a few brief reflections that didn’t end up making it into that post.

As an extreme introvert, I can idolize the time before bed. The day’s business is done. No more work, ministry, or events on the calendar. My wife is asleep and the house is quiet. I can relax and use the time however I want — whether that’s checking a few tasks off my to-do list or more often than not, unwinding with some entertainment. I value that “de-compressing” time.

There’s nothing wrong with alone time, but it becomes a problem when I hold on to the day too tightly. What do I mean? Going to sleep means the end of my blissful alone time and embracing the next day, with all it’s hustle and bustle, whereas staying up means prolonging those feelings of rest and relaxation just a bit longer. Once I’m in that frame of mind, it’s easy for the pull of entertainment to suck me in.

Instead I’m learning to “let the day go”. I’ll sometimes repeat that phrase to myself, when I find myself staying up too late. Yes, alone time is good in its proper place. But it’s not an escape from my God-given opportunities and responsibilities as a husband, friend, church member, son, and employee. Psalm 127:2 tells us that the Lord gives his beloved sleep. I don’t need to fear tomorrow and it’s worries. I can go to sleep with peace, excited to meet with God first thing in the morning. I can sleep in faith, knowing that God will provide fresh new mercy every morning and he is sovereign over the next days events.

Tips for Waking Up

We’ve touched on some of my heart issues for getting to sleep on time, but what about waking up? Practically speaking, the main factor of whether I’ll wake up or not is whether I can battle through the initial grogginess and get out of bed. In that moment of first waking up, the hazy fog of sleep is so powerful (somehow far less attractive when I’m deciding to sleep the night before!). It’s difficult to resist the urge to hit that snooze button and float off for another 10 minutes.

However, if I’m able to battle through the initial grogginess and make it through these 4 habits, I can usually start my morning on a good note:

  • Rehydrate – Chug water for 10 seconds
  • Brush Up – Splash cold water on your face, then brush your teeth, etc.
  • Movement – Do 10 pushups.
  • Light/Fresh Air – Turn on the lights (I’ll sometimes set my smart light to gradually turn on before my alarm) or go outside (helpful when I was doing my devotions at the park)

The key is that no matter how miserable you feel, to run through these habits on auto-pilot. This video expands on healthy habits for waking up early without feeling tired.

Until next time!

Teleworking and Fruitful Breaks (2/3)

In my last post, I talked about how I use an extended version of the Pomodoro technique (45 minutes work, 15 minutes rest) to help me focus while teleworking.

In this post, I want to brainstorm how to take fruitful breaks during those 15-minute rest periods.

How can we use our breaks wisely? My current approach: by resting and/or using breaks to take small steps forward. (Side note: none of my ideas are as fun as this guy’s approach to work/breaks: the Animedoro)

#1: Resting – This is what we normally think of when we think of breaks. Focused work is tiring, so it is healthy to give our minds a rest. Resting will look different for different people. My go-to activity is a quick 15-min walk around the block. Other options include: going outside to chat with my wife (who is also teleworking), grabbing a snack, or just lying down and staring at the ceiling.

#2: Taking Small Steps – I’m sure I sound repetitive, but hear me out: breaks are an effective way to consistently take small steps forward. How often do we think: “I wish I could build X habit or learn Y skill, but I can’t find time in my schedule” or “I need more time to tackle this endless list of errands!” On their own, these tasks usually don’t take too much time, but they can feel daunting with all our other responsibilities and commitments, so they get pushed to the backburner. Making time to do a few small tasks during your breaks is a way to consistently make progress in needed areas and reduce stress. A few ideas below for how to do this:

  • Build Healthy Habits – Do a set of pushups or pull-ups. Clean up my workspace. Respond to people’s messages (I am notoriously bad at this). Have a quick spurt of reading or writing.
  • Knock Out Miscellaneous Personal Tasks – Pay your bills or schedule appointments. Do chores around the house. Especially helpful if you’re making big life decisions: planning a wedding, home-buying, etc. with many tasks to stay on top of.
  • Learn Something New – Read that interesting article. Brush up on work knowledge. Check on that all-day cooking project that’s simmering in the oven.

The goal is not to be productive every single moment of the day (i.e. using every break to do personal “work”). Taking time to pace yourself and rest is equally, if not more important. I’d recommend alternating between resting breaks and “taking small steps” breaks.

For some further reading, I recommend checking out this article on deep breaks by writer, Cal Newport.

In the next post, I’ll wrap up this brief series on teleworking with a few thoughts on balance and avoiding pitfalls.