It had been so long I’d forgotten what it felt like. I mean, I used to do it so regularly that the idea of it being a rarity in my life at one point seemed unthinkable. It was so normal. So satisfying. So…enjoyable.
I’m talking about grabbing a printed magazine, plopping on the couch and reading it in one sitting over the course of about an hour.
Remember doing that?
Back in the day, a mere ten years ago, a magazine would come in the mail, or you’d buy it at the store for 45 times the price, and at some point you’d sit down on your couch or recliner or desk and give it your undivided attention for a few sittings and read everything in it.
Where I’ve failed miserable the last several years is the “undivided attention” part.
Right now, we, the people, are a society of divided attention. I am a prime example. My attention is so divided I’m shocked I’m still writing this, honestly. And that you’re still reading it.
By my count, in the course of reading a single article online or on my phone, I send three texts, read two e-mails, scroll through Instagram once, get a Twitter alert, receive a text, put my phone down, grab a snack, play a game of NBA Jam, and otherwise get sucked out of the online article and into the relentless digital vortex that lives behind my phone screen consisting mostly of dunk highlights, hot takes, kid pictures, trick shots, trade alerts, movie trailers, food pics, fake news, real news posing as fake news, fake news posing as real news, unreal news posing as pseudo news, dog photos, half-news posing as full news and everyone hating everything and complaining about everyone hating everything while hating everything everyone complains about…at which point I forget what I was reading and go back online to see who the Celtics are playing tonight.
You still here? Good. Me, too. For the moment.
It’s gotten to the point that when I see an article I want to read in my Twitter feed or on Facebook or by some other online means, I actually go out of the article immediately and make a note to myself (that I always forget to check) to finish the article. I set a reminder for a random time that evening when I’ll presumably have more time to focus on reading it, which feels good, because picking a random time in the future where you think you’ll have time provides momentary relief from the fact that at the present time, you think you have no time, but since there will be mythical “free time” in the future, you can be inefficient and lackadaisical now with your time.
I’m still making sense I think, so you better still be reading. Don’t leave me now.
A turning point for me came recently when I happened to flip by HBO at the exact moment that Wedding Crashers was starting one night. I hadn’t watched the movie in about 8 years and it was awesome so I settled in to watch it. About 6 minutes in, during one of my favorite parts of the opening scene, I absently went to reach for my phone because I needed… Nothing. I needed absolutely nothing… I was enjoying the movie. I was laughing at all my favorite lines… But like an addict, I just wanted a fix from my phone… And I couldn’t get it. My phone was still in my closet (I put it there every night when I get home from work and leave it there until about 8pm for a self-imposed phone ban – and so I actually look at my kids faces for the few hours we’re home together)…
At this point, laziness won over digital addiction and I didn’t move from the couch. I stayed with the movie. I let myself get back into the world of Sack Lodge and crab cakes and football and Vince Vaughn expounding on his maple syrup knowledge. And it was great.
What does this have to do with magazines?
Well, a few days after I watched Wedding Crashers, my football team, the Patriots, won the Super Bowl (yeah I know you hate them, Brady sucks, they cheat, blah blah blah… best QB ever so deal with it) and I wanted to bask in the coverage and it occurred to me that one of the first things I USED to think about after a championship game was what the cover of Sports Illustrated would look like and who would write the long think-piece with all the behind-the-scenes info and interviews leading up to the game, and who would write the exclusive post-game piece, etc…
I haven’t thought that way in years. Like six or seven years at least.
At one point I even collected covers of magazines that I liked, some of which I’d even be lucky enough to write for. In my magazine-subscribing prime I probably received 10 to 12 different issues a month. And I read them all, or at least most of each one. SI. Wired. Esquire. Smithsonian. GQ. Muscle & Fitness. Outside. Men’s Fitness. Popular Science. SLAM. Entertainment Weekly…and on and on… My coffee table looked like a doctor’s office waiting room – except the magazines weren’t 45 years old.
I let almost all of those subscriptions lapse a few moves ago (and two kids ago, truthfully) thinking that via Twitter feeds and FB follows and Apple News and newsletters or whatever else I’d eventually get all of the same information.
All these years later I have to admit.
I. Was. Wrong.
In an effort to become fully digitized and efficient and paper free I removed nearly all of the enjoyment I got from holding a magazine in my hands, flipping through it, finishing an article in one sitting with no distractions, thinking about it, reading the little tidbits, and letting the magazine linger on a coffee table or couch or desk for a while so I could flip through it again.
I also took away the anticipation of getting to my favorite writers’ article, as well as the feeling of accomplishment of finishing a magazine and putting it down for a conversation piece later.
And this is where I have to give Wedding Crashers the credit. When I went online to bask in all the articles about how great my team was, I even got distracted from that, something I knew I would enjoy. An I thought about that for a minute: I wasn’t even letting myself get lost in a world I wanted to join and that I knew I’d like. If I can’t focus on that… What the hell could I focus on???
And that’s when I thought, if only I could find a way to read about my team and the other sports and topics that I like without all the digital distractions harassing me… I wished that I could put away my phone like I did watching Wedding Crashers and just enjoy what was right in front me. I wished that there was a way to consume this stuff without my phone… I wished that there was some real-world format for this type of thing… And before I knew it… I wished for… Magazines!
And I know this is very writer-nerdy of me, but when you enjoy a magazine in its entirety with the layout as the editors intended, it’s almost like watching a movie, where everything goes together stylistically and fits well and you become immersed in the world of the magazine as its creators intended. This is in stark contrast to the tornado of chaos and clickbait that exists in our social media feeds.
This is a good contrast. A healthy contrast, even, I think.
I am by no means advocating for an absolutist, black and white approach where print is back and digital needs to change. Far from it, actually. There are a million things I love about online publishing and online publications and blogs and social media and emojis and gifs and memes and all of the awesome stuff we can do now. I mean, I’m writing this on a blog, so, you know, I’m in…
What I’m saying is that rather than lump my magazine reading into my general, free-for-all, Golden Corral buffet of social media madness and hashtags and humans getting eviscerated and demolished and lambasted and destroyed by various comedians, I’m going to consciously carve out time to read magazines, like I did with Wedding Crashers, where I can settle in, with no distractions, and actually enjoy the information in front of my eyes, and not flip scatter-brained to the information behind my screen.
If your attention span is long enough to get this far, then we should be best pals and you should get my columns sent right to your inbox once a week HERE.
You’ll probably also want to buy this book.