Friday, May 07, 2010

Fundamentally Distracted

"But fundamentally, The New Yorker is something you want to sit with and not be distracted by. I don’t mean this in a spiritual way, but it’s a meditative experience. The Web is fundamentally a distracted experience."
Blake Eskin, Web Editor, The New Yorker

I haven't tried to read anything on a Kindle. I've played with an Ipad (no, I won't capitalize it that stupid way) for about fifteen minutes in the store — enough to flip several pages on Winnie The Pooh, play a video game, and watch a short video.

My wife thinks I have an internet addiction, and I'll admit to reading a good dozen magazines, blogs, and web comics on a regular (daily) basis, including Achewood, The A.V. Club, XKCD, Dresden Codak, Slate, Silliman's Blog, and The New York Times

I also subscribe to paper editions of The New Yorker and Harper’s magazines (which I don’t read on line) as well as New York Magazine, The New York Review of Books, and The Believer (which I do). I write for The Brooklyn Rail and often advertise my articles on the web, but when I read it, I read it in paper format. And only once in my life have I tried to read a book on my computer. It's called The Story of Don Miff and, though you can now buy a print-on-demand copy on Amazon, at the time it was unavailable anywhere. I made it roughly 1/3 of the way through, on my laptop, before I gave up.

Blake Eskin and this ad both make a pretty good point — and it’s a point that, as far as I can tell, the Ipad, with its games and movies, doesn’t address. And that is that reading a book or a magazine is, in many ways, a very different experience than reading online. When I get my new copy of the NYRB, or New Yorker, in the mail, I will often read it cover-to-cover before the next issue arrives. Sometimes I zip through it, and sometimes it sits around for several days. Sometimes I get busy and don’t read it all the way through, but when I do, there’s a sense of satisfaction, of having really read the magazine.

I don’t do that with Slate, or with AV Club, or any of the other online magazines. I don’t think I even could, and I honestly don’t know what that would look like. The problem, for me, is two-fold. One is that the online editions of most magazines, with their archives, and blogs, and endless updates, are more or less impossible to fully read. The profusion of information is the point of on-line media. The other is that most online magazines now include profusions of hyperlinks (much like this post) and even if they didn’t, they often discuss subjects that I don’t know much about, and the temptation for me to launch off on a quest of, say, the history of the Knights Templar, or who built the Brooklyn Bridge is irresistible.

I don’t know much about the Kindle. I don’t know its browsing capabilities, or whether you can play video games on it. But if you can’t — if it’s just trying to be a book — that might be a good thing. That might, oddly, become its advantage over the Ipad. People will probably, at least at first, buy a lot of books (among other things) on the Ipad. But if trying to read on it is anything like trying to read on a laptop, then they might not get through very many of those books. And they might stop buying books so much, favoring instead more distraction-friendly activities.

Because, honestly, this post is only 650 words long, and how many times have you already clicked away, following links? How would it be if you were trying to read a 50,000 word novel?