Daily Rituals & Flipboard
I remember when I was a child, my father coming home and reading the newspaper on the couch in the evening, almost every evening. There I acquired an implicit reliance on newspapers as a truthful source – as many of you readers likely learned it too.
I came back from the sea side recently and met a funny lady on the train, who before opening her newspaper told me “I haven’t read the newspaper for days: I’m out of touch with everything, must catch up!”, and then immersed herself in the newspaper’s opinionated, partial, superficial, bribed world image, believing practically everything read, just like you and me.
Paper newspapers have fixed sections feeding a set of personal passions: books, fashion, gossip, sports – some sports. This fixed set creates common themes, and local groups, say the local sport teams supporters.
Uniformity creates a certain kind of society: daily walking to the forum for a chat for the Roman citizen in the days of the republic was also a way to learn customs and gain auctoritas. Daily reading newspapers for the European bourgeoisie became an essential part of a gentleman’s life, and newspapers spread together with the industrial revolution.
And today? One of the themes automatically collected from RSS / Twitter streams / lists / Facebook etc. in my daily news feed is around “game design”. There is rarely any trace of it in any daily newspaper; the group of followers of this theme has almost no other member in the range of many miles. We build our own “writing team”.
When Steve Jobs presented the iPad sitting in a couch, with the iPad monolith behind him, he connected to all these powerful images and memories. He was perfectly aware of what he was doing, declaring “It’s so much more intimate than a laptop and it’s so much more capable than a laptop.”, the key word there being not capable, but intimate.
Building on the facilitating ergonomics of the device, the creators of Flipboard added the ideal tool for personalized news reading.
Flipboard solved at the same time the problem of (1) scaling of incoming information (merging tweets, RSS and Facebook), of (2) visibility of information linked, (3) readability of the obtained information and (4) inspection and interaction of sources, i.e. the human beings creating information.
The iPad + Flipboard pair gives high readability and fruition to socially generated contents which by themselves are garbled short sequences of shortened URL’s, hashed tags and idiomatic acronyms, severely lacking fascination. This way aggregated contents are felt in part as your own creation, and you can mold them, re-launch them, make them a part of your own personal history. The set of news gains an aura.
The way you hold the iPad, the material qualities of the gadget give some ceremonial aspect to “reading on the couch”, and the quality of the Flipboard application contributes to the quality of the overall experience.
Acquisition of authority of aggregated social bookmarks means also a corresponding loss of authority of traditional press and its referents: politicians, large corporations, and other press journalists. This is an important shift of sources of truth (mythical, as in there normally is no verification of veraciousness).
What is read as the chosen “daily dose of information from the external world” is an implicit definition of truth, and reading via Flipboard on a connected device makes it possible and even easy to access, verify sources and deepen knowledge. This is not a secondary aspect of behavior – this changed and shapes our lives now.
This change in sources has as side effects: increased transparency of sources, but also dilettantes self-proclaiming themselves as experts (like the author of this post – but check this). But how was it with newspapers? Was information carefully checked on the field as a norm? Or we just had less transparency?
Doing without Flipboard
A month ago I “lost” my iPad; actually, I left it on a plane, went to baggage check, realized I didn’t have it, and it was already stolen. Anyway, I have had to do without it for a while – and it has been an opportunity for checking alternatives, in particular for Flipboard alternatives. I have a small PC laptop, so I said “let’s try to use that”. Laptops are supposedly superior to iPads for things like writing text… argh, actually not, I find iA Writer for iPad the best writing environment… anyway, there must be some advantage.
The “best” I could find is paper.li, but it nowhere near the real thing. Paper.li lacks readability, it’s cumbersome to get more depth concerning the contents of quoted links, links from authors point inside paper.li itself instead of getting to their profiles, ads are intrusive, and so on.
I’m surprised that nervous startup bubbling from Silicon Valley is not generating competitors to Flipboard – I guess I’ll just have to buy another iPad. Anyone with an iPad to spare?
A self-promotion note: our online bookmarker’s next update will expose an RSS of all the remind-me-later (or read it later) bookmarked items so that these too can feed a Flipboard channel- you become an (unreliable? ) source for yourself.