This week in the Guardian, writer Rachel Sigee pondered the question of why so many of us frequent sites like Goodreads and Letterboxd to log our media consumption, and came up with an answer that seems obvious in retrospect: It’s dopamine.
Yes, the same addictive brain chemicals that cause our neurons to fire every time our phones light up with a notification are what keep us marking our progress in the books we’ve read or assigning a star rating to every movie we’ve watched or tracking the hours we’ve poured into a particularly immersive video game. Or (and this is where things get slightly insidious), to build lists of all the things we want to—or feel we “should”—read, or watch, or play.
It’s worth considering (as Sigee does) whether it is healthy to “gamify” what is essentially a leisure time activity in this way, and as a hardcore media logger, I will admit to sometimes feeling a sense of exhaustion at contemplating the lengthy lists of all things media I want to consume that I will probably never get around to. Unless I figure out a way to live forever and also abandon my job and family responsibilities.
But I’m also not going to stop doing it. Even before technology presented methods to make it easier, I intermittently have kept lists of, say, the movies I watched with my then-girlfriend, now spouse. Like scrolling through photos in my phone, just seeing the name of a film on that list would trigger my memories of where we were when we saw it or the conversations we had afterward. So much of daily life is ephemeral; keeping a record of a given day—even if it’s just something as inconsequential as finally watching Weekend at Bernie’s (a surprisingly weird movie) can give you an anchor to cling to.
So with all that high-falutin’ nonsense aside, here are some of the best sites and apps around to help you start keeping track of your own media habits: books, movies, video games, and music.
The best apps to log your reading
Goodreads is by far the most widely used book tracker, but there are alternatives if you don’t want to serve up yet more of your data to corporate owner Amazon.
Goodreads. You know about this one. Goodreads has been around for going on two decades now, and since its acquisition by Amazon in 2013, the site has amassed a membership of some 90 million readers eager to catalog what they’ve read and provide status updates on what they’re reading. In many ways, it set the standard for these types of social cataloguing apps, allowing you to customize your books into various shelves, write and read reviews, befriend and follow other users, make recommendation lists, and more. It’s not perfect—the UX is basically unchanged from the site’s infancy, the design is cluttered and unintuitive, and the mobile app is incredibly slow—but you probably use it anyway.