Reporter's Notebook

As We May Think
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Below are Atlantic notes, from James Fallows and others, on the expected and unexpected effects of the computer revolution on our habits of thought, work, and life. The thread’s title is in honor of the seminal article largely prefiguring the modern Internet, “As We May Think” by Vannevar Bush, which the Atlantic published in 1945.
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Reading Aloud, Julius LeBlanc Stewart (Wikimedia)

Two more notes by readers on the how tablets, phones, and computers are changing the process of reading. Novel angle: these readers say the change may be for the good. First, from a mother of young children:

A quick observation just because I suspect that I have a minority perspective among your readership…

A kindle is an absolute lifesaver for reading when you're also trying to nurse/rock/otherwise care for a baby. The light weight means you can be reading War and Peace and still hold it up one handed for hours without getting tired, turning pages with a button instead of desperately trying to get gravity or maybe telekinesis to do it for you.  And the wipeable, non-tearable screen comes in handy too. I'm sure my now-toddlers could figure out how to break the thing if they really put their minds to it, but I also know that they are naturals at trying to rip pages out of books.  

To interrupt this note with an agreement: yes, of course, there are lots of cases where the lightweight, self-illuminating, no-page-turning, hold-with-one-hand aspect of Kindles, iPads, nooks, etc is a godsend. Back to the note:

Miss Auras, John Lavery (Wikimedia)

In some of the installments you’ll find lower down in this thread, I mentioned both the internal and the external unintended-consequences of the shift from paper to electronic reading.

  • Internal: at least for me, information simply registers differently, and more deeply, from a traditional book or magazine page.
  • External: reading from a printed source emits social cues about what you’re doing, and the presence of print around a house affects the environment in which children grow up.

Now readers on related aspects of this shift. First, from a person who has worked for many years as a teacher, in the United States and overseas:

The idea of "concept of book" is taught in most good Ed. School classes about reading. If you don't know to read from right to left, top to bottom, and whether to start front or back, you can't work the damn thing. You and I got the training from parental exposure. There are many children who do not have "reading parents" to stack their environment with cues.

A child seeing Mom work a Kindle does not get the same cues as when Mom is reading a book or magazine.


Growing up, my parents had National Geographic, Smithsonian, Newsweek, among others and I would pick them up when I got bored. Other than a couple of home improvement magazines, I do not subscribe to any today. I feel like I am cheating my children of any experience.

Yesterday I mentioned the astonishing (to me) news that, by cramming a wad of Post-it notes underneath the cover of my ailing Android Nexus 5 phone, I could save myself the significant cost and hassle of buying a new one.

Three followups. First from Jason Virga, creator of the Post-in note video that saved me so much time and dough:

When my Nexus 5 microphone first started malfunctioning, my first thought was "oh well, time to get a new phone”!

Thankfully my curiosity drew me towards tinkering around a little bit before making that new purchase. Within an hour, I figured out the problem and posted the video.

Norman Rockwell illustration for electric light ad, 1920s (Wikimedia)

As a business matter, the Atlantic has placed tremendous emphasis through the past two decades on integrating all the different ways we try to get our message out. This means via the classic in-print magazine, the ever-expanding and -refining range of our web sites, live events, videos and podcasts, and so on. I say “through the past two decades” because we were one of the very first publications to have a serious online site, starting with Atlantic Unbound back in 1994.

As an intellectual and cultural matter, the whole undertaking is more connected than you might think, with most people working in the same physical space in Washington and talking about the interactions among the various things we do. Here is a reader note about the way it comes across on the other end. I offer it as a little document on the state of modern cultural / intellectual/ technological life.

A reader in Texas writes:

My hardcopy version of The Atlantic arrived today. It made me think about how my interaction with the world is influenced by the magazine and all of your various websites.

  • I use Feedly to collect all of the various Atlantic feeds and (yes!) blogs. I check these daily, indeed several times a day.
  • When the magazine is about to be released, I notice that all at once there are many long form article on my feed. I secretly rejoice, as I know that the hardcopy is on its way. I don’t read them on my computer or my phone, but do mark some that I know I will want to send to friends later.

Or: how 50 cents’ worth of Post-it notes, and a brief bout of  searching, saved me hundreds of dollars just now.

Glamor shot of the Nexus 5, red model

I am a fan of my Nexus 5 Android phone, made by LG and branded by Google. Its neon-orangey-red color makes it harder to lose than some dignified black phone. Also it conforms to my platform philosophy: Apple for laptop and tablet, Android for phone.

This Nexus 5 has always worked great, until yesterday when it just stopped working as a phone. If people called, I could hear them, but they couldn’t hear anything back from my end. Trying to use the voice-command function made it clear: the Nexus’s built-in microphone had completely conked out.

After 30 seconds of searching (in Evernote) to see how long ago I bought the phone, I find that it’s beyond its one-year warranty. In the next minute of searching online, I see that LG’s “repair” policy involves weeks of turnaround time and high enough costs that you might as well just get a new phone. Which in the world of unrepairable modern tech may of course be the intended point.

But then, thank you Internet! The next 60 seconds of searching, and less than five total minutes of work, allowed me to get the phone back to working order. The answer is all here:

Executive summary: you open the phone, you cram in a wad of little Post-it notes, then you close the phone back up. The pressure from the notes tightens up a connection that has come loose. The phone now has a small midriff bulge but works fine again.

Apparently this is a prevalent enough design/structural problem for the Nexus 5 that the this video is part of a large selection dealing with the loose-microphone-connector issue. But it’s the one I’m highlighting, because it required no tools, had total material costs of about 50 cents, and was so quick from start to end.

No larger point, beyond offering a small positive note about the often-maddening online world. Specific thanks to “JBug1979,” creator of this phone-saving YouTube video.