The curse of the Sisyphean read-later list

Joan Westenberg
3 min readNov 29, 2023

Let’s talk about our digital ‘save for later’ pile. That growing list of articles, videos, and podcasts we swear we’ll get to eventually. It’s like we’re building our own little museum of cool stuff we’ll explore ‘one day.’

When are you going to read that long article about the Byzantine Empire or listen to that lengthy podcast on climate politics? How many articles from The Atlantic, Substack and Threads have you hopefully squirrelled away? If you’re like me, these things are just sitting there, untouched.

They’re in Instapaper. Pocket. Matter. Safari’s reading list. Flipboard. They’re bloody everywhere.

Here’s the funny thing: In trying to learn everything, we learn very little. We stuff ourselves with information but don’t digest it. It’s a sign of our times — we want to know more but feel empty.

So why do we keep adding to this pile?

At its core, the ‘save for later’ list is a manifestation of our digital era’s paradox of choice. With the internet offering an endless buffet of information, we find ourselves overwhelmed by options. This abundance leads to what psychologist Barry Schwartz describes as the paradox of choice, where too many options can lead to decision paralysis and dissatisfaction. Our lists become a way to manage this overload, a method to bookmark our intentions against the relentless tide of new content.

Every article, video, or podcast we save speaks to a part of ourselves that yearns for growth, understanding, and connection. They represent a version of ourselves that is more informed, more cultured, or more attuned to the nuances of the world. In this sense, our ‘save for later’ list is not just a collection of content but a mosaic of our idealized self. But at the same time, each saved item is a reminder of our finite nature in contrast to the infinity of knowledge available. It’s a clash between our mortal selves and our quest for a quasi-immortal grasp of information.

Behavioural economists talk about the intention-action gap, where our plans don’t always translate into action due to various factors like procrastination or a change in priorities. This gap is glaringly evident in our interaction with these lists. The act of saving something for later provides an immediate…