Archive for the ‘magazines’ Category

I am an anachronism

June 6, 2008

The truth can now be revealed, and it isn’t pretty. I’ve suspected this for some time, but I couldn’t really confirm it.

However, the new ( July/August 2008 ) Atlantic (formerly Atlantic Monthly—hmmm, July/August (?), maybe there’s a reason for the name change) arrived today. The cover article, by Nicholas Carr, is: “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” It’s a fascinating read.

Carr explores the ways in which extensive use of the Web is changing the ways we read and think. It’s frankly, for someone like me at least, a little scary.

I’m not a Luddite. I actually enjoy being able to search for things on the Web from the comfort of my home office. I’ve had enough experience to know at least some of the ways you can validate (or invalidate) what you find there.

But I also really enjoy a good book or magazine that requires me to digest pages of material, mull it over, and then try to integrate what I’ve read with what I knew before. I like to think deep AND wide, and I take great pleasure in synergy, especially in apparently unrelated topics.

That’s what makes me an anachronism.

Notable quote from the article: “In Google’s world, the world we enter when we go online, there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed. The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive.”

I would agree with much of that last sentence, but not at the costs that the article points to. These changes do not come in a vacuum.

Carr doesn’t demonize Google. He rather attempts to reflect on the changes in thinking and brain function that are being observed as a byproduct of extensive use of the Web.

It’s well worth your time to browse this piece. You may be able to find it online at www.theatlantic.com. I don’t know. I haven’t checked. I have the hard copy, you see.

And I’ve found another reason to be very happy that I bought the second edition of The Oxford English Dictionary, all 20 volumes and four feet of books. It may not be available too much longer.

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Listen up, magazine publishers

December 22, 2007

OK, this is a rant. I admit it. I’m getting older, crankier, and less tolerant of 1) stupidity, 2) consumerism, and 3) other things that annoy me greatly.

But I have no intention of going gently into the night, so I will rage as it pleases me, and it does occasionally please me very much.

The topic on my mind today is publishing and reading. I’m disturbed by the continuing news that fewer and fewer people actually sit down and read things like books. This has nothing to do with the fact that I write and everything to do with the fact that I think. I want other people to think, too, not just swallow whatever sound bite is being handed out at the moment. And I believe I owe a great deal of my ability to think to the fact that I have been a voracious reader all of my life.

But what’s really bringing on this rant is what I see as a disturbing trend in periodical (magazine AND newspaper) publishing. It seems to me that this trend actually discourages readers at a time when most publications are wracking their brains to figure out how to keep/increase subscribers.

I first noted it with Vanity Fair.  When my subscription was running out, I almost didn’t renew it. The reason was their continuing burying of the table of contents in a rash of photo ads. In one notable issue, the first page of the TOC was on something like page 46!

The really stupid thing about this is that VF’s photo ads are so beautiful that I would probably look at them anyway if they were scattered appropriately throughout the magazine. But having to search for the TOC is so annoying that I almost gave the magazine up.

Then I realized that every issue had at least one article that I was really glad I read, an article that in all likelihood I wouldn’t have seen published elsewhere. So I renewed. But interestingly enough, now I skip those beautiful photo ads and flip through until I find the various TOC pages (they are never adjacent). I dog-ear them, and that’s the end of my attention to the ads.

But now the practice is spreading. Even my beloved New Yorker recently has run several pages of ads before the TOC. At least they keep the multi-page TOC all together. The corker for me was this week’s Sunday NY Times.  In section A (the news section, remember), more than half the pages were devoted to full page advertising. That’s not while I buy the NY Times.

I understand that advertising keeps my prices lower (although $5.00 for a Sunday paper hardly qualifies in my mind as a “bargain”). But I’m also one of those “real readers,” people who actually pay extra money to subscribe to publications that don’t wallow in advertising, publications like The American Scholar, The Hedgehog Review, and Poetry Magazine.

I’m also one of those people who is likely to continue reading and subscribing, at least to publications that don’t annoy me beyond my tolerance level. And it seems to me that publishers are running a real risk of alienating readers who are really the bread-and-butter of their subscription revenues.

Of course this is all driven by the god of Consumerism, the great American religion. But that topic annoys me so much I couldn’t possibly do justice to it here. If you’re still with me this far, I applaud you. I’ll rant separately about consumerism. . .

End of rant. I do feel better now.