Categories
Culture

Read-It-Never: Instapaper and therapeutic self-delusion

Apps like Instapaper were supposed to help us read more great online content. Too busy to scroll through that thousand-word thinkpiece? Click a button, and it’s queued up for perusal later on.

But, for me, “later on” never comes. Instapaper is a landfill, where I bury articles—permanently. I currently have 3,366 unread items in my queue. Yes, that’s thirty-three hundred and sixty-six pieces I never came back to read. Some of these date back years and cover topics long since made irrelevant by the passage of time. There’s no chance that I’d ever want to exhume them.

My recent realization? Clicking ‘read later’ isn’t about bookmarking great content. Rather, it’s my way of ignoring how little great content I actually read. It’s a tiny, meaningless gesture, a sort of therapeutic self-delusion. “I’m the sort of person who reads this,” I proclaim with every queued post.

But… I’m not. Not recently, at least.

Maybe that’s okay. After all, no one can read everything they stumble across on the web. If an article really intrigues me, I’m going to read it now. Read-it-later apps help me let go, to sift out the chaff and toss it into the wind. With Instapaper, I can set aside online content without too much debilitating self-judgment.

Still, although I seldom revisit my queue, I can’t quite bring myself to declare Instapaper bankruptcy; I can’t hit that ‘Archive all’ button. There’s some small part of me that still thinks I might eventually get around to reading those 3,366 articles. You won’t always feel so exhausted at day’s end, I tell myself. You won’t always be so busy.

(I’m a good liar.) ■

Categories
Internet

A long sentence vs. a short paragraph: on Twitter’s character limit change

Last night, Twitter began public testing of a long-rumored, controversial increase to its character limit, doubling the quota from 140 characters to 280. It’s the most significant change to the service since its debut over a decade ago—the difference between a quip and a quote, between a thought and an idea, between an objection and an argument.

To illustrate this, I’ve pasted a few familiar quotations below; each of these fits under the new 280-character limit; the struck-through text would have been cut off under the old 140-character rule.

Winston Churchill, address to the House of Commons, June 1940

“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg address, November 1863

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation… can long endure.

Thomas Jefferson, the U.S. Declaration of Independence, 1776

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement address, 2005

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death.


It’ll be fascinating to see how user behavior changes once the longer quota goes live. Until yesterday, every tweet was understandable at a glance. Now, browsing your timeline will require require actual reading (heaven forfend). Will Twitter still feel like Twitter? ■