Before my trip to Israel, I downloaded Instapaper, an iPhone app that lets you store web pages to read offline in a friendly text format. It was quite useful-- I would save stuff to Instapaper when I had wireless access, and then be able to read later when I didn't.
Since returning, I've found I'm still using it. Rather than keeping a tab open in my browser for days, planning to read something eventually-- or bookmarking it, and ultimately reading it never-- I just click on the bookmarklet (is that the right word?) to throw it into Instapaper, and now when I'm waiting in line, on a bus, or other times I'd play around with my phone without any real purpose (and watch pages I don't care about reading take too long to load), I have stuff to read.
It has become the first thing since Google Reader to change the way I read online. So I thought I'd share.
Speaking of Google Reader-- which makes it far too easy to read way too much-- I realized in those moments of wireless access in Israel when I was trying to quickly scroll through and catch up, that I was tracking far too many things. Hence, a healthy and productive Google Reader purge. Cut half of the feeds I was following. Two weeks later, I miss none of them, and went back in yesterday and cut some more. I'm ruthless. Because I fear that I'm being dragged underwater by the Internet and the endless things that one can end up reading if we're not careful.
Like, say, essays about how there's too much to read on the Internet and we can all be dragged underwater if we're not careful.
Like this essay from n+1 sort of about Gary Shteyngart's new novel (which I read but not well, if that makes any sense) but really about exactly what I'm talking about here.
Here's an unrelated piece from New York magazine about James Frey and his farm of young adult novel-creators. Sharing because it's a really good read. And more than a little disturbing.
The New York Times wrote last week about longreads, a site that spits out recommendations for long-form content on the web. The fight against Facebook updates, or something like that. I discovered a similar site, longform.org, a while back-- same idea, highly recommended. Why longreads got the press and not longform, I'm not quite sure.
I feel like this stuff is in the air, a little bit -- "we miss long-form content," "all we read now is surface-level status reports from people we may or may not know" -- which is interesting, since I've been feeling it for a while, and writing about it on here way too much, certainly as a percentage of things I've written about in the past couple of years.
Perhaps it indicates the return of e-mail and long-form blogging to replace the emotional connections that it's much harder to generate with Facebook and Twitter. I read somewhere that Facebook is introducing an e-mail service on Monday to compete with gmail. I'm not sure what that means exactly -- you can already message people on Facebook and chat with them -- does it just mean a new interface to manage those messages, and make it an easier thing to do? Right now I don't really message people on Facebook unless I don't know their e-mail address (this has happened maybe 5 times in 3 years, I don't know-- the number of Facebook messages I have sent is really small) because I don't want to have to remember to log in to Facebook to see their response. I have a system for e-mail. I don't have a system for Facebook messages.
But that's just me. I am not a power user of Facebook. I am a browser. I update my status almost never. I comment on other people's things almost never, unless it's their birthday and I'm trying to fulfill the social obligation of recognizing it on their walls. I suppose it's nice to know what people are up to, but I'm not sure the overall utility. Reading someone's Facebook status (or Twitter feed) unfortunately ends up making me less likely to e-mail (or call-- but there aren't that many people I call, so this is basically irrelevant) them because I am lulled into a false sense that I know what they're up to and we're in touch. We're not in touch. I'm lurking on the periphery of their lives, reading 20-word summaries of occasional things that happen to them. Not in touch. Unfortunately.
The people I e-mail with most often-- and I'm trying to come up with an exception, and I can't-- are people who do not update their Facebook status or Twitter feed with any sort of frequency. Is it the more someone tells me what they are doing, the less I feel compelled to ask? I don't know.
This, I think, is going to reach a point-- soon-- where everyone realizes that rather than helping you be in touch with friends, Facebook is keeping us at arm's length from the people we're actually interested in. Our relationships are being pushed to shallower territory. Offline connections are being turned into online pseudo-connections. And something-- I think, maybe, who knows-- is going to attempt to restore those relationships, but rather than doing so by turning back the clock and getting rid of status updates etc, it's going to find a way to take advantage of technology and become the next big social application that we use.
Mindfeed, perhaps. For when Facebook and Twitter aren't enough, and you actually want to follow what someone is doing. You tap into their entire online consciousness, with the ability to real-time comment and engage.
So you click on my Mindfeed-- or, let's say MindFeed, with the uppercase F, just for fun-- and you see in a window of your screen that I am currently typing this blog post. And you read that last sentence and notice a typo, so you chime in with an instant message-- a MindFeed FeedBang, or something like that-- and let me know. So I can fix it. It's like you're in the room with me. It's like we're friends. Sort of. And then I click on your MindFeed, and I see that you're watching something on Hulu. So I watch with you for a few minutes, FeedBang you that this show isn't funny and you should watch something else instead-- maybe what my other friend is watching (which I know about because I clicked on the MediaFeed tab, which lists out everything anyone I know is currently consuming, sorted by category), which was really funny when I saw it last week. So I make the instant connection for you-- a new MindFeed FeedFriend, perhaps just limited to a MediaRelationship if my friend doesn't want to open up all of her privacy protections to a third-party stranger-- and you watch it with her.
And then maybe I'm hungry, so I click on the FoodFeed tab-- nice, right?-- and see that my friend Jeff is eating a tuna sandwich. And through the FoodCam, I see it looks pretty good. So I FeedBang him and find out what's in it, and whether it's as good as it looks. And then I make one of my own, and he gets three FoodFeedFriendFind points because he helped inspire me to copy his lunch. The more points you get, the higher you move up in the FoodFeed rankings, and the more people will be channeled toward watching your meals instead of somebody else's.
And then while I'm eating, I click to have a MindFeedLiveChat with another friend-- we're all permanently online, so really all that means is I click the button and start talking, they hear me through their speakers, and just like if I passed them on the street, they can decide whether to stop what they're doing and answer me, or click to ignore.
Right, isn't this where we're heading? Always online, and part of a permanent stream of virtual connectivity. We can watch what we're all doing, and engage if we want, at any level from silent lurking to screaming. I'm not actually sure if I'm describing some crazy dystopian universe, or just Social Networking circa June 2013 or so. MindFeed. Look for it. At your nearest Amazon Insta-Ship Portal Kiosk.