Over at TriQuarterly’s blog, Matt Wood has been documenting his various eReading habits, from RSS to eBooks. It’s an engaging read despite the potentially dry subject matter, most specifically when he speaks about his workflow. That word likely appalls eReading critics: the concept of task management seems to run counter to the romantic notion of reading-as-a-serendipitous-experience, reducing an an edifying practice to something as dull and workmanlike as managing an Excel spreadsheet.
But for those of us afflicted with voracious–perhaps even addictive–reading habits, there’s always been a need for a certain amount of task management and curation. An old friend used to print or clip out articles to read later and save them in her file cabinet, in those dark days before Instapaper, when the only way to save interesting online articles for later was the unwieldy browser bookmark. But like anything, new tools require new systems–it’s taken years for me to develop my own eReading workflow. I can’t over-emphasize how much the iPad has transformed my reading system. It has quickly evolved into my single reading device, and digging through the hundreds of posts in my RSS reader on a desktop computer now seems positively barbaric.
Regardless, the sheer scope and amount of content that comes to us on any given day is overwhelming, and necessitates some sort of battle plan to make it through it all. I streamline my reading into two channels: up-to-the-moment news and opinion, broadcast via Google Reader and Twitter, and long reads that I collect in Instapaper. While burning through my Google Reader feed in Reeder or browsing Twitter using Twitterific or Flipboard, if I come across anything that will take over a minute to read, I send it immediately over to Instapaper and move on.
Instapaper, Marco Ament’s fantastic application that archives long pieces for later reading, is the key to managing the longer articles, features and blog posts that I want to spend more time with and give careful consideration to. For my purposes, the iPad could just as easily be renamed the Instapaper machine–anything longer than a couple hundred words goes into Instapaper, which archives the article and reformats it with the refreshingly spartan design of an eBook. Since becoming Science and Tech editor for Shareable, Instapaper has also become an invaluable tool, allowing me to give submissions a first close reading on a couch or in a comfy chair, settings much more germane to deeper thought and consideration. It’s a much more satisfying reading experience than the computer-and-a-desk terminal model that we’ve tolerated for decades.
As the socially-curated eReading series I wrote for Shareable demonstrates, these systems are ever-changing. It’s taken a while for me to find a workable system–a year ago, I wrote a despairing essay for the Santa Cruz Weekly about drowning under the Internet’s unending torrent of words and bemoaning the loss of “slow reading” associated with print. I’ve since come around. While this new age of reading requires learning new skills, the richness and diversity of information available online makes it worth the extra effort. Have you figured out a great eReading workflow? If so, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.