Back to reading paper

It’s hard to escape news these days. They are everywhere—on your computer, in your car, in your pocket, maybe even in your refrigerator. Every smart device is ready to tell you what is happening in the world at any time.

Newspaper was the only way to get news before television or the internet was invented. It took days—sometimes even weeks—for news to reach us, until advancement of technology caused not only proliferation of news sources, but also dramatically increased how fast those news spread around the world. Now when something happens in Australia, we know about it in Europe—other side of the planet—in a matter of minutes.

While the amount of news has increased, our bandwidth to consume them did not. We used to read today’s newspaper and go on with our day, but that illusive limit of consumption is gone. Now we decide when to read and when to stop, which, unfortunately, makes too easy to reach for our smartphone each time we feel bored.

Reading news online has more costs than most imagine. The obvious one is productivity cost. People are not good at multitasking; filling every spare minute with a quick scroll through the news breaks our concentration. Spontaneously switching between work and entertainment makes it hard to deeply focus on the next task. This is why one-minute pause quickly becomes a half-hour distraction.

Ironically, reading news online somehow became harder as well. Websites are trying really hard to shift your attention while reading: pop-ups, auto-playing videos, advertisements and jumping mailing list forms are thrown to your face after reading first paragraph. It’s difficult to focus on text when websites are constantly bugging you to click on something.

Because speed became such an important part of breaking news, the quality of articles have deteriorated. Everyone wants to be the first to break a story. You can’t blame them: being too slow will leave them behind other news publications and it’ll have a direct impact on their revenue.

But the worst effect of reading news online is imposed by us. Reading news on the screen encourages skimming—a type of reading where we skim through the text without internalizing it. We’re not robots—we can’t understand ideas and provoke our own thoughts when we spend a split second on every sentence.

What’s even worse is that skimming has a detrimental effect on our attention span. The more we spend time jumping between the lines just to get the point of the article before moving to the next one, the harder it gets for us to immerse ourselves in a long-form writing.

I don’t believe in new year resolutions (any day is a good day to make a change), but it’s a good opportunity for course correction nonetheless. This year I decided to stop following daily news on the internet and go back to reading old-fashioned newspaper.

It’s been a month since I read any news online and the feeling is incredible. Not only because of increased productivity, but also in general calmness of life. There are very little news that’s worth knowing immediately as they happen—everything else can be postponed or even ignored. Crises around the world are happening all the time—there’s no point to follow them all.

Getting news weekly is a good compromise. All most important events are combined into a single paper publication that can be read in a few hours. Also there tend to be less reactive stories and more analytical articles that explain events in a historical context.

I don’t think I ever go back reading news online. It’s like ear ringing—you eventually get used to it, but you can’t believe how you could’ve lived with it when it’s finally gone.

Rolandas Barysas
Hello, my name is Rolandas Barysas. I write software for a living, splitting my time between freelancing and personal projects.