Newspaper Design and Another Problem With The Kindle

At Three Percent I saw this piece by Farhad Manjoo describing how the Kindle subverts traditional newspaper design elements:

Every newspaper you’ve ever read was put together by someone with an opinion about which of the day’s stories was most important. Newspapers convey these opinions through universal, easy-to-understand design conventions—they put important stories on front pages, with the most important ones going higher on the page and getting more space and bigger headlines. . . .

Getting through these same stories on the Kindle is much harder and more tedious. First, they’re out of order. When I scrolled through Thursday’s national section on my Kindle, the shortest and least newsworthy of these pieces—the Burris story—came first. Worse, because the Kindle gives every story the same headline font, the list item doesn’t clue you in to the story’s slightness. The only way to know if a story merits your attention is to click on it. But clicking is time-consuming—the Kindle takes a half-second or so to switch between a section list and a story, and another half-second to switch back. This sounds nearly instant, but it’s not; the delay is just long enough to change the way you read the news.

Manjoo doesn't go on to make the obvious conclusion to his argument: this is exactly why it's stupid to manufacture an expensive digital device to reproduce the experience of reading a book. We already have books and newspapers, and they'll not be defeated. And it's pointless to try, unless you're part of that 0.001% of the population that has a legitimate need to carry 600-some books around with you at any moment.

The corollary to this is that the Internet (and other possibly digital readers) can improve over print because they democratize information. That is, even though a few years ago every newspaper in the nation put IRAQ WMD WILL KILL YOU ALL!!! on page one and kept the stories that might disrupt the narrative somewhere to page A25, a site like Daily Kos could choose which information was the most meaningful and highlight it.

Obviously books and newspapers are just the opposite. You can argue all day for which is better–a command or democratic approach to information–but the point is that digital and print function differently, and it's dumb to put so much effort into making a digital device that reproduces what we can already do just fine in printed format, albeit with an extraordinarily larger carrying capacity.

That all is to say, if the Kindle and similar really want to be as revolutionary as they're trying to be, they'll get over their print envy and figure out new ways to let people use the information they purchase.

And here's another reason not to read on the Kindle.



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