Essay: How Instapaper Ruined Me as a Reader

Sections: Books

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The author’s Instapaper account

I used to read books and magazines. Really, I did. I’ve subscribed to Sports Illustrated for as long as I’ve known how to read, and prided myself for most of my life on how many books I could read, and on how full my bookshelf was. Heck,  I even used to read a newspaper on a semi-regular basis.

Thanks to the digital revolution, sadly, those days are over in my house. Downstairs, I’ve got a stack of magazines eight inches high; upstairs, my stack of unread books is taller than both of my children.

No, I haven’t switched to an E-reader. I used a Kindle for awhile but it didn’t take and while I’ve read the occasional book and magazine issue on my iPad, that’s not really my favorite thing to do either.

So what happened? Instapaper happened.

In case you’re not familiar, Instapaper is a cloud-based service and mobile app. If you’re reading something in the browser on your computer, or even on your smartphone or tablet, simply click the “Read Later” button, and the article saves to your Instapaper account. You can even save articles people have linked from Twitter and Facebook, which I do often.

As an editor of multiple websites and a relatively busy writer, much of the reading I do is geared towards either coming up with content ideas or reading up on background. To that end, each day I do two or three sweeps through my Google Reader account, which has a few hundred RSS feeds. When I come across things I don’t have time to read right away, I save them to the Instapaper app, which I can access on my iPhone or iPad.

Right now, my unread articles on Instapaper go eight pages deep, with 30 articles per page, and the oldest article from about six days ago. And it’s been worse than that in the past.

Between work responsibilities and two young kids, I don’t have as much time for recreational reading as I once did. But what often ends up happening is, when I have extra time I’m spending a lot of it reading those articles on Instapaper. Which means my books and magazines gather dust.

If I have a half hour before bed in which to read, my choice is often “start reading book that he’s sitting on my nightstand for weeks,” “get started on one of those five unread New Yorker issues,” or “knock out a few things from the top of my Instapaper queue.” Once in a while I’ll proclaim a “no computer night,” and use that to catch up on books and magazines. But I don’t usually make much of a dent.

Of course, I realize having too many things to read is far, far the worst problem in the world to have. In fact, this column reads like it’s tailor-made for the “white people problems” hashtag. But if you’re wondering why I have a stack of books next to my dresser as tall as the dresser itself, this is why.  At least my kids like to read books. My older son riffs through magazines all the time. But of course, he loves the iPad, too.

It’s not that I don’t recommend Instapaper; other than email and maybe Facebook, it’s the mobile app I use the most. Just don’t expect to stay caught up with your paper reading once you start using it.

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