All Tomorrow's Tablets: Will Steve Jobs Bring Back Reading?

Categories: Tech
On Wednesday, Apple's secrecy-clad chief Steve Jobs will unveil a new gadget, a tablet computer that he's been said to have called "the most important thing I've ever done." Depending on who you ask, the magic tablet will either deliver a new way to read the written word, or it'll be a way to watch videos on a clipboard-like device bigger than an iPhone and more manageable than a laptop.

In 2008 Jobs famously blurted out, "People don't read anymore."  A remark which Apple fanboys took to mean: Steve's going to bring back reading!


He'd better. Like most writers, I did not have many friends growing up - I had books and the newspaper and magazines and getting lost in words and writing while my parents fought through a divorce. I hit the books, imagining a better life out there where even a fat kid like me could be part of some cool writers' club where people wrote their thoughts and lives down every day.

I never thought I would get paid to write for a living, which I do. But we no longer read like we used to. I have a writing career because I annoyingly tweet my articles to my followers and email friends constantly with links to my own and other people's content.

I maximize strategy and monetize my personal brand and live out who knows how many other Media 2.0 buzzwords. I am less of a writer and more of a curator.

This is because the platforms upon which we engage with text-based communication have changed. The information revolution has replaced our thoughtful essays with headlines followed by a bunch of comments, because there's money in getting commenters to constantly reload a page in order to fawn over their own one-line wisdom.

Thanks to the wanton refusal of tech platforms and media companies to come to any sort of manageable agreement on what a viable new media business model may look like, entire subsections of the writerly class are or soon will be out of work.

I'm guilty, too. The Weekly now has a long-form journalism club, something one of our particularly short form-skeptical staff writers whipped up. We are a group made up of more talent than hustle, and convene today in the afternoon in order to discuss a 2006 Esquire piece on the Chechen terrorist takeover of a school in Beslan.

In actuality, I'll spend an hour image-searching "lemurs" on Google instead of reading the article. Of those of us who actually click the story link, half will skim it, read the headline, search for keywords and then scroll down to the comments. Why read the long part in the middle? We'll bullshit our way through by filling in the gaps in our reading with a bunch of pseudo-intellectual talk we learned in college.

So if Steve really gives a flying fsck about this new Internet-driven literacy, tomorrow's tablet will first and foremost be an invention that intends to bring back reading. Because if it turns out to be just another way to download apps or catch up on Jersey Shore, I'm getting an engineering degree.

Follow us on Twitter at @alexiat and @sfweekly.

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