Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Technology and Me

I have a bad habit: my attention wanders when I'm reading. It's especially a problem if I'm reading off a computer screen, and that computer happens to be connected to the Internet. Hello, Source of All Distractions! This is the main reason why I dislike reading long articles or stories off a computer, and I couldn't even begin to imagine reading a novel that way. In the past, when there was a nice long chunk of Internet-based writing I wanted to read, I would go so far as to print it out so that I could peruse it later, when the distraction of the whole world wasn't just a mouse-click away.

Another bad habit I have goes back to the days before I knew the Internet existed. I tend to get impatient when I'm reading, even if it's a piece of fiction that's really sunk its barbs into me. My eyes insist on skipping ahead a few paragraphs; my fingers insist on flipping ahead a few pages, just to get a glimpse of what's going to happen. It's incredibly distracting.

Technology to the rescue! I own an iPod Touch now. It's got WiFi but not 3G/4G; its screen is big enough to display one or two paragraphs of text but not more. I think it may be my saviour.

Even when I'm in a place with free wi-fi, the Touch interface (the same as the iPhone interface) makes it awkward to have several windows open at once, which I view as a feature, not a bug. It reduces the temptation to go check Facebook when in the middle of an eight-thousand-word article. And the screen size focuses my attention on the current paragraph or two of text.

I've already downloaded the Instapaper app (well worth the five bucks) which saves online articles locally on your device. Only caveats are that it sometimes does minor odd things to the formatting (for example, section headings might become indistinguishable from ordinary text), and occasionally I've accidentally saved only a fragment of a long article rather than the entire thing (you gotta be careful about sites breaking an article across several pages for the supposed convenience of the reader). Otherwise it's been a fine little investment for me. Instapaper plus Longreads equals Good.

Now to await my check from Instapaper in return for shilling their product.

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