My E-Reader Helped Me Fall in Love With Online Long-Form

It might be a UX thing. I don’t know, it feels wonderful.

I used to have a tough time reading long-form articles on the internet. Part of my job at Medium is to encourage writers to publish long-form articles on the internet, so this was hard to admit. If you recommended an article to me, I’ll bookmark it into a folder called to_read and then keep working. If it’s urgent, I’ll block out some calendar time to read it. While I’m reading, I may get a Slack or a text. I may pause in the middle for an errand. Over the course of hours or days, I’ll eventually finish it. It will not be entirely enjoyable.

With that said, I love reading. Specifically books. Or magazines. I love bookstores. I love libraries. I miss libraries. I love looking at bookshelves. If there’s one behind you in a Zoom call, I’m looking at it.

I recently found a series of PDF papers on creative tools and learning and design, but there’s no way I could sit on my computer and read all of them. Already I’m feeling a lot of eye strain and fatigue from so much screen time. So I got a Kindle to read them. It turns out reading PDFs on a Kindle is pretty horrible.

There’s this bookmarklet that lets you send an article from a browser to the Kindle. I sent a few articles, and I actually enjoyed reading them. So then I sent some more. I went through my to_read bookmarks. I learned about a different kind of math to reconcile various physics models, I learned about IFS therapy, about schizophrenia and shamanism, about the classics and white supremacy, and went down this rabbit hole by Jenny Odell, which I’d been meaning to read for a couple of years (Odell wrote this wonderful essay on Medium which led to the New York Times bestseller). This entire world of reading long-form on the internet opened up for me. Overwhelmed with the joy of learning and fantastic writing and new windows to the world about so many things, one night, I just giggled before falling asleep.

Now it’s become an obsession. One of my hobbies is looking for long-form articles and sending them to my Kindle. Like on a Friday night, this is what I’m doing. I’m sending gifts to my future self. It’s the depth and the journey of these articles that I find wildly satisfying. I feel like I go somewhere, that I make a new connection. I learn something. I’ll go through websites that round up long-form or through features of different media sites, or archives of magazines.

Ideas from these long-form articles will come up in conversations. I’ll send essays to my therapist (only when asked). One rec will lead to another. If you have any, post them in the comments. I’d love to read them.

Nothing has changed about the articles themselves to make me want to read them. They’re incredible on their own. It’s the way in which I can read them now that makes all the difference. I’ll take some guesses as to what it is, but I suspect there are other qualities outside my awareness.

There’s the pagination. I can easily pick up where I left off. It could be that otherwise, scrolling for that long leaves me in a state of limbo. A page gives me a place to land. I can’t bookmark a scroll bar. Reading online is a kind of unfinished feeling that’s like an expanding to-do list. Somehow this format helps, and I suspect it’s the pagination.

There’s the friction of the device. I can’t wander off and do other things. I’m focused on the article I’m reading. I can try and use the internet on my Kindle, but it’ll be slow. That’s good here. The device helps focus my attention on the most important thing, the writing. I can stay with a piece for hours. I can get lost in it. Or rather, find more of myself through it.

There’s time and context. I read these articles in that time just before sleeping where I want to do calmer things so I can sleep more easily. It’s not a screen — it’s e-ink. It feels different.

About these articles specifically, there’s the care. I know time and attention went into researching, writing, and editing the works. I know that a team was likely behind them. I know if I spend time with them, it will be time well spent. There’s no media FOMO.

So much of my time on the internet is spent with unedited opinions, tweets, forum comments, etc., and I find that valuable too, but there’s more, there’s that depth that I feel from long-form, and I realize now I had trouble seeing it not because of my own laziness, but because of the way it is presented.

Writers @Medium, Editor of Creators Hub. Author of “Feeling Great About My Butt.” Previously: Product @embedly, Research @NECSI.

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