Instapaper is an e-reading app that’s gotten a lot of press lately for the way it strips online content of ads and links and allows users to save and read lengthy pieces later—offline—without distraction. But I especially like Tim Carmody’s piece on Wired.com that compares our increasingly inattentive reading online to “information obesity.” (What better way to get Americans’ attention, in fact, than to tell them something is making them fat?) It’s an apt metaphor, I think. Here’s what Carmody says about Instapaper, after interviewing its inventor Marco Arment.
On the one hand, it recognizes that we increasingly do more reading on computers and other electronic screens. On the other hand, it tries to extract items of lasting value, removing them from the most toxic aspects of that environment, so we can focus on them more effectively.
“People love information,” Arment said. “Right now in our society, we have an obesity epidemic. Because for the first time in history, we have access to food whenever we want, we don’t know how to control ourselves. I think we have the exact same problem with information.”
We accumulate thousands of unread e-mails — and the attendant guilt about not having read or answered them — only to empty out our inboxes and start over again. It’s as if we’re suffering from an entire range of collective information disorders: When we’re not binging, we’re purging.
Give Instapaper a try: it might help you wean yourself away from the bottomless bag of Doritos that is your Twitter feed, and instead sit for a while with something a bit more substantial and filling. For instance, that longish New Yorker piece on procrastination that you’ve, appropriately, been putting off reading.