With all the young dudes feeling so anxious about how much they have to read, the Luddites who are still reading long articles should seem to have it pretty good. Don’t they just, like, plop on the couch and read The New Yorker through their bifocals until falling into blissful, old-person sleep?
I talked to Max Linsky and Aaron Lammer last week about Longform.org, the website they started a few months ago that aggregates the “greatest hits” of long-form journalism. (They’re not old.) The site is already popular with the nerdy, older journalist types who have always kept track of this stuff (Jack Shafer), but also appeals to those who ride bikes and live in Brooklyn and rarely read long-form journalism before the advent of iPhones and iPads. Like Mr. Lammer.
After installing the Instapaper app on his iPad, he developed a ravenous appetite for new stories to read on the train. He now reads them in line at the bank, too.
“One of the reasons we started the site is because our Instapapers were ending up empty and not having stuff in them that we wanted to read,” he said. “If you’re really obsessive about reading all the time when you’re on the train, and you get on the train one morning and you don’t have a story to read on your Instapaper, it’s going to be awful. It sucks.”
Although the two founders harbor a reverent respect for journalists who produce the stories on Longform– not shying away from calling it a “crusade” for artistic nonfiction– the stories also produce a sort of high-brow cultural currency.
They were both literary types to begin with: Mr. Linsky writes for takepart.org, and Mr. Lammer is a writer and editor who used to work in publishing. At 29 and 28, respectively, they are at a ripe age for Reader’s Despair Syndrome. They feel the need to stay abreast of the sophisticated long-form stories that first roped them into writing– long ago, via hand-thumbed copies of The New Yorker– in addition to the steady stream of short blog posts in their RSS feeds that largely comprise dinner party discussion. A 2005 episode of This American Life described people who expertly talk about things they don’t know as “modern jackasses.”
“I feel like long-form stories are the ultimate modern jackass fuel, you know?” Mr. Linsky said. “Because you can read them and think you kind of know what the deal is. Stories are about storytelling, and that’s why people read them. But they also give you the sense that you really know some shit.”
It’s easy to compare a web native’s reading consumption to his eating habits. Mr. Linsky said in last week’s Observer story that RSS feeds were akin to walking into a grocery store and having cinnamon buns thrown at you all day. Longform could be seen as the Alice Waters antidote for the Colonel Sanders RSS feed culture: a slower-paced digestion of the high-quality stuff. Except they’re still eating it all pretty quickly.
“You can definitely blow out your Instapaper account,” Mr. Lammer said. “But at least you’ve ordered all those dishes that you’re supposedly going to eat. The experience of being in a restaurant where you just say what kind of food you like and more and more food keeps arriving — that’s not an optimal experience.”