Sometimes Paper is Just Better

One of the most enjoyable experiences I had while on vacation in January was reading the New York Times each day. The hotel we were staying at had complimentary copies of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and local Florida papers. Each day I’d snag a Times on my way out to the pool or beach and just kick back and work my way through it. I got the same news that I usually get at home, but I thoroughly enjoyed not having to stare at a screen. Instead of being on edge, I was relaxed.

Part of it was that I was on vacation, but I think more of it was the medium. On paper I read slower, I contemplate and digest, whereas when I’m reading on a phone/tablet I tend to be more scatterbrained. I skim, I follow links, I get distracted and jump into an app or start doing Google searches. There’s actually starting to be some evidence to support this as an episode of one of my favorite podcasts Note to Self (formerly New Tech City) touched upon:

Paper or screen? There’s a battle in your brain. The more you read on screens, the more your brain adapts to the “non-linear” kind of reading we do on computers and phones. Your eyes dart around, you stop half way through a paragraph to check a link or a read a text message. Then, when you go back to good old fashioned paper, it can be harder to concentrate.

“The human brain is almost adapting too well to the particular attributes or characteristics of internet reading,” says Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University.

She says we have to develop a ‘bi-literate’ brain if we want to be able to switch from the scattered skimming typical of screen reading to the deeper, slow reading that we associate with books on paper. It is possible. It just takes work.

When I returned I considered subscribing to the Sunday New York Times. I had visions of sitting on my back porch and slowly working through it, or taking it to the pool in the summer. There were a few problems with my idea:

  • It’s kind of expensive – $4.50 / week for delivery here in Albany
  • When it’s windy, the paper blows all over the place
  • I hate the general feel of newspapers on my hand and despise getting newsprint on my fingers!

Serendipitously when I returned from vacation there was a trial issue of Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine waiting for me in the mail. I gave it a read and thoroughly enjoyed it. It has the perfect balance of dense news in the beginning, with a few longer deep dive stories after. It’s one of the few publications where the quality is close to what you’ll get in the Times. It’s also more economical at $40/year for 50 issues ($0.80/issue vs $4.50/issue for the Times). It typically arrives on Thursday or Friday, just in time for the weekend where I typically have more time to devote to uninterrupted reading.

Since subscribing I’ve reduced my online news reading significantly. I still get my RSS feed email daily with news related closely to our business, but other than that I rely mostly on Businessweek and my favorite tech podcasts. The reality is that getting the news a few days or even a week after it happens has little to no effect on my life.

I love that I can use my phone to read when I need to, but I rarely need that convenience. I’m reading at home or if I’m traveling I throw the magazine in my laptop bag. It’s worth the effort for the better reading experience.

2 comments on Sometimes Paper is Just Better

  1. Rob says:

    I think the internet has made me scatterbrained. I just find it so difficult to concentrate for long periods now – it’s something I really have to put effort into. I’m so used to being entertained, having vast amounts of data at my fingertips (often just data, and not really useful information) that reading paper books, magazines or newspapers is a massive jolt.

    When I visit my parents I often spend hours reading the weekend newspaper & colour supplements, it’s so much more relaxing and real-feeling than the experience of reading on a screen – even a kindle.

    In terms of what you said about most news not affecting you – I feel totally the same way, but still find myself watching TV news and reading news websites multiple times a day. It really doesn’t matter for the most part. A fantastic news magazine in the UK is “Private Eye”. It’s edited by a hilarious and well respected comedian/political commentator and it comes out once a fortnight. Additionally, it also tends to trail a week or so behind “live” allowing for much more thoughtful and in-depth articles to the written about news items and thus it avoids a lot of hype and reactionary bullshit. Sure, if it’s all you read you’d often be 2-4 weeks behind what’s actually going on, but at the end of the day as so little that’s going on in the wider world has impact on a day-by-day basis to my life it doesn’t matter that it’s delayed.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Sure, if it’s all you read you’d often be 2-4 weeks behind what’s actually going on, but at the end of the day as so little that’s going on in the wider world has impact on a day-by-day basis to my life it doesn’t matter that it’s delayed.

      Well put Rob!

      Sometimes I think it actually helps to be a few days or a week behind. When people start discussing something I’m unaware of I get to ask them all about it. Usually leads to great conversation.

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