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June 12, 2003

Browsing and Scanning

Friedrich --

Dept. of "You Know It's True Just From Looking at the Products But It's Always Fun to Hear the People Responsible Spell the Facts Out Anyway":

A graphic designer I ran into at a party told me that most magazines are now designed and made with the idea in mind that purchasers will spend no more than 30-45 minutes with the magazine. (In more logocentric days, such publications were referred to as "fast reads." These days it seems like magazines are simply assumed to be fast reads.) Ie., most magazines are being made to be leafed through, not read. It seems to me that the implicit assumption (and fact) is that the words are present to 1) accompany (and explain) the flow of pictures and graphics, and 2) to be dipped into from time to time. I wonder what percentage of their articles, essays and stories magazine editors expect readers to read all the way through in the old, linear, from-beginning-to-end way.

How do you experience magazines these days? I'm awestruck by them, but in a very limited way; as composed-and-assembled, Hollywood-esque productions (conceptualized, designed, printed, etc), they're often astounding, and bursting with energy. That said, I by and large have no interest beyond the curious-and-anthropological. I look at them trying to figure out what's what in terms of the media world. Main conclusion: Most of them seem to mimic channel-surfing. Main reflection: Fascinating how channel-surfing has become the media/art experience against which all others are measured, isn't it?

I guess what interests me most is the frame of mind the current media products promote and assume. I find "looking" to be one thing, "browsing/scanning" to be another, and "reading" to be a third. In a way, it's a continuum, from visual to verbal. In another, "browsing and scanning" stands apart. "Looking" and "reading" can both lead to and promote experiences of depth, while "browsing and scanning" always seems to be a matter of skittering along the surface. I wonder if it has to be.

But, in any case, these three different mental activities/states-of-mind seem so different -- at least I experience them as very different -- that I'm surprised studies aren't being done on them. I'd be surprised if brain scans of people looking, of people browsing/grazing, and of people really reading didn't reveal striking differences. But a few quick Googlings haven't dropped anything in my lap. Have you stumbled across any such discussions?



posted by Michael at June 12, 2003


These days, I don't know if it's a function of my age (earlyfortysomething) or the media itself changing. I used to love "Playboy," "Entertainment Weekly," various Macintosh computer mags, and "Rolling Stone" (with the occasional copy of "Atlantic Monthly" as it used to be called).

"Playboy's" once stellar journalism is non-existent anymore, save for the main interview, and the women are so falsely pneumatic, dyed and shaved (plucked?) they don't even resemble real girls anymore. (The original female design - real breasts, a pubic triangle, and bodies of all shapes and sizes - is superior to whatever fetish Hef has these days.) There's nothing to read or ogle.

Somewhere about a year or so before all the new monkees (Nsync, Spears, etc.) burst forth from Orlando, "Entertainment Weekly" turned from having a wonderfully removed and snarky take on mass media (I think they even invented the word "snarky"), to another corporate advertising machine shilling the latest product that their parent corporation turns out. They've even made the mistake of hiring the graphic designers from "Wired" who obscure any text in page layouts so confusing and distracting that reading assembly instructions on the back of a kite during a monsoon with a flashlight while riding a merry-go-round is easier.

Computer mags lost any value they might have had in the light of much better amateur punditry on the web. Slashdot rocks.

I don't know what happened to "Rolling Stone," but reading it somehow became less fun than trying to determine if you have lint in your navel without the benefit of a mirror. It might have to do with the fact that the music world has fractured into shards, and there is no cohesion among listeners anymore, thus no central groups anyone can relate to. Or, it might have to do with the fact that most of the reporters and reviewers of RS have bought into the school of criticism that maintains everything sucks except that one bizarre, inaccessible indy album that the reviewer personally loves because (unknown to us, the audience), s/he heard it at a party whilst stoned, knows the group personally, s/he's totally jaded, it plays to a personal quirk of hers/his, or s/he wants to boff one of the members. These guys wouldn't give the Beatles a good review. (But then they never gave Led Zeppelin good reviews, either.)

And I've noted that even old warhorses like "National Geographic" are subtly politicized anymore rather than just expository about the topic. Even an article on Vikings (published somewhere in the past five years) had a "tsk, tsk" nature to the reporting of their world-conquering nature. "Those brutes!" Yeah, they were brutes, but who cares now? I wanna know what they did, not how the reporter feels about it. On the many shelves in the villa we rented for a vacation recently, they had hundreds of old NG's, and they weren't politicized. So it IS a new, unfortunate trait for the mag.

So, I don't really read magazines anymore unless I'm waiting in a line or waiting room somewhere. (Or find good old ones on vacation.) But it may be that I'm just an old fogey anymore.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on June 12, 2003 3:31 PM

Thanks, Yahmdallah. If magazines can turn off the likes of you and me, who both sound like old magazine buffs, I wonder how they're effecting everyone else. Although it may be that people who aren't aware that magazines were once different find the new ones just fine, thanks. And excellent point about the way so many magazines have become politicized at the same time. There's a connection -- I wonder what it is. Any theories?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 12, 2003 4:45 PM

Because everyone now believes the lie, that comes from both the far left and the far right, that goes: if you "get them early" and/or build-in the desired point of view - slip it in while someone's not looking so to speak - it will influence them before they know they're being influenced. (That's why both activists and political parties target the primary schools.) And for a time, and for the young, that may be true. But it's done so often and so blatantly anymore, it's not as effective anymore. We just notice the attempt at manipulation rather than succumb, and then typically, properly, dismiss the medium of delivery as tainted. And we end up not believing anyone.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on June 12, 2003 5:10 PM

Oh, and one last thing about "Playboy" for me that IS a function of age. Anymore the girls in there are literally half my age, meaning they could be my daughter. So it feels kinda creepy to be perusing pictures of those I now view as kids. I notice my dad instinct is evoked more than the one they're trying to invoke, ala, "You're in college, young lady, you don't have to be doing this!" (Setting aside for the moment that they are adults and can make their own decisions, and who am I to judge their decisions? The women I've talked to who have posed nude - who weren't also strippers, or "pros" that is - thought it was a lark.) Perhaps we need an erotic magazine with women ranging from 30 to 50. And decent articles. You suppose the Blowhards could get something like this together? You got the article side whacked already.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on June 13, 2003 10:28 AM

"Whacked"? Hmm. Not a bad name for magazine. Want to be editor?

A friend of mine with a daughter in college has an evo-bio theory: that men are programmed, as they get older, first to find older and older women (ie., wives) more appealing (I remember being 13 and thinking that 20 year olds were hags -- except for my French teacher, of course), and also to find young women the age of a daughter unappealing. He says that girls exactly his daughter's age have no allure at all, but that five years to either side? Yup. All for the good of the species, of course.

Hey, I wonder if there's a magazine article in this.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 13, 2003 7:58 PM

If your evo bio theory is correct, why is that all the women I know over say, 45, find younger and younger men attractive?

Posted by: Deb on June 13, 2003 9:10 PM

I find the "5 years on either side" comment rather interesting...exactly how old is his daughter?? If she's 18, 18-5...need I say more?

Posted by: annette on June 14, 2003 10:11 AM

Annette, my daughter is 13. 13-5 comes to child abuse as far as I can tell. I have noticed my husband is much more, well, critical of what youngish women are wearing than he used to be. His response used to be "hubba hubba!!" and now it's "why do their mother's let them dress that way?"

Posted by: Deb on June 14, 2003 1:38 PM

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