How to Be a Focused Online Reader
There is no doubt that the internet changed journalism forever. But interestingly, not everyone can agree on the effect that it’s had on our reading habits. Gone are the days when we sat down and read a newspaper from cover to cover; today, we read content in piecemeal amounts all day long, picking and choosing from the wealth of stories that the internet offers.
Some people say that the overwhelming amount of content and short, list-like articles that proliferate online have damaged our attention spans and made us less able to focus than ever before. Meanwhile, others insist that the ability to publish words online without the space limitations that once came with print has opened the floodgates for unique, compelling, and engaging stories we might not have read before.
Regardless of which side of the argument you come down on, one thing is certain: we have more options than ever before when it comes to what to read. According to some sources, “4.6 billion pieces of content are produced daily” and “every day there are around 92,000 new articles posted on the internet and 83,000 blog posts published every hour.” However, as anyone that’s tried to read a lengthy article online will tell you, reading in the distraction playground that is the internet is different from doing so in a book or print magazine. With so many things vying for your attention—Twitter! Email! Your latest Facebook post!—it can be hard to focus on the words in front of you, no matter how engaging they are.
So, if you’re keen to dive into the wealth of niche, investigative, rich, and compelling content that can be found online in the new age of journalism, check out our list below:
There are some tips and tricks you can use to help tighten your focus and make sure you’re not constantly distracted:
Install an “offline” reader: Blessedly, there are still moments of modern life where you can’t be connected: on an airplane, or when you’re off your data plan while travelling in another country. For these oases of time, consider installing a reading app that you can use to save articles to read for later. Options like Pocket and Instapaper easily integrate into your browser, so you can “Save for later” with a single click. Reading a long-form article with no notifications popping up midway through might soon become one of your favorite simple pleasures.
Cross pollinate with podcasts: Some of the best pieces of storytelling content these days are coming in audio format. If you love the immersive feeling of getting wrapped up in a story, but don’t have the self discipline to sit down and read them, consider consuming them in an audio format. Some publications like The Guardian publish audio versions of their longform reporting, while podcasts like S Town, This American Life, and Radiolab are the best showcase of the kind of in-depth reporting the internet age has given us.
Utilize airplane mode: One of the best ways to lengthen your attention span is to “trick” yourself into doing so. Set time increments where you read with your wifi or 4G disabled. You can do this on your phone by toggling airplane mode, or simply switch your wifi off, and set a timer. Hopefully, the content you are reading will be so compelling that you will forget you’re missing out on notifications and news.
Use aggregation sites: If you’re having trouble finding the rich, long-form content you want to read amidst all the internet click-bait, turn to aggregation sites like Longform.org, which curate the best journalistic pieces the internet has to offer. In addition, subscribe to the newsletters of your favorite journalists and influencers, who are increasingly using the format to send out their favorite reads from all around the internet.