The Instagram algorithm came up with some strange ideas about me. For example, it decided that I could dream of owning shoes made from recycled wood pulp or what looks like reconstituted erasers. I’ve also been mistakenly identified as prone to nondescript clothes that cost $ 500, candles that smell like old libraries, and something called “waterproof gold,” which, as far as I can tell, is just plain gold. Most of all, my worth as a potential customer does not lie in my love for flammable-looking clothes or insane-looking heels, but in my persistent pursuit of increased productivity.

For reasons that are unclear to me, I am constantly being shown ads for products that promise a lifestyle of ceaseless optimization: workflow apps, time management apps, polyphasic sleep plan apps. I get ads for podcasts that say things like “Get Sh! T Done” and ads where the product itself is unidentifiable, but the design brief was clearly “getting people to think about how much they want it.” love to check things off a list “. Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of ads for an app called Blinkist, which is essentially a tool to capture and absorb as much information as possible in as little time as the human brain allows.

Like many of these products, Blinkist appears to be based on the belief that any activity can be made more efficient, turned upside down, and shaken until its value is lost. In this case, the main activity waiting to be streamlined is reading (time consuming, requires sitting) and the object waiting to be disassembled and rebuilt for maximum comfort is a book (unwieldy and poorly designed Receptacle for the information contained therein). . The service condenses thousands of non-fiction books, identifies “key ideas” – called “Blinkes”, presumably based on the Malcolm Gladwell book – and presents them to users in 15-minute formats who, according to its website, are “some of the” busiest people on the planet.”

The Blinkist user is not a fool who simply gets involved in an activity without knowing beforehand what he will get in return. The website promises that their customers’ reading time will never be wasted, that they will “always get away with a new nugget of information or critical insight”. If that’s too abstract, Blinkist’s website defines the value of its product in precise financial terms: $ 89,000, the total value of all the books on offer together. And it only costs about $ 8 a month.

Each summary begins with a question: “What is in it for me?” For example, for someone who wants to know why they should take 15 minutes of their day to read a compressed version of. to listen Larissa MacFarquhar’s “Strangers drowning: Impossible idealism, drastic decisions and the urge to help” – a book about the “extreme altruists” who devote themselves entirely to the service of others, usually with great personal and financial expenditure – the answer is that he will find out whether he is “selfless enough to become an altruist”. For someone on the fence about the summary of Swetlana Alexiewitsch’s “Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets” – A 500-page oral story about the dissolution of the Soviet Union and, consequently, one of the 20’s predominant political ideologies and beliefs.

Each summary ends with a summary of the summary under the heading “Final Summary”.

The house style is cheerful and talkative, regardless of the tone of the condensed original text, with the reader blinking from blink to blink with occasional surprising prompts such as: “Imagine questioning everything you believed to be true and the world, as you knew her it turned upside down overnight. How would you feel? “(From” Secondhand Time “). Or:” Would you say you know yourself? Where does your sense of identity come from? “(From RD Laings “The Divided Self”, a book on schizophrenia). Every text is searched for its actionable insights, even if the actionable insights should prompt the user to snap their laptop over their knee immediately, as in the abstract of Jenny Odell’s “How To Do Nothing”: “Meaning is often the product of accidents, coincidences and chance encounters – precisely the ‘off time’ that our 24/7 productivity cult seeks to eradicate.” Each summary ends with a summary of the summary under the heading “Final Summary”.

Unsurprisingly, the Blinkist library contains many books on the subject of productivity and time optimization, with the answer to the question of what’s in it for the user often already in the title. For example, a summary of “Not Today: The Nine Habits of Extreme Productivity” is available in the app, which contains a range of productivity information so dense it could bend spacetime. The service has also expanded to “shortcasts,” which are compressed versions of podcasts, many of which are about productivity, time management, and the general idea that there is always a better, faster way to have every room have a secret panel contains that further tweaking has hidden opportunities, and if you can’t find it, it’s simply because you haven’t exhausted the limitless, almost mystical potential of the tweaking mentality.

It hardly needs to be spelled that this sentence is inconclusive. I find it hard to imagine what one could gain from reading the mercilessly digested version of Secondhand Time, unless your only aim is to pretend you’ve read it for about 30 seconds, and even if. If you round up the summary further you get gibberish, and if you condense the podcast on productivity you get white noise.

And yet there is something about the concept that I cannot shake off, because it would be exciting if such an abbreviation worked, if it turned out that there is indeed a way to go with everything we are supposed to have read and heard To keep pace and to make sophisticated opinions about it, opinions that show a deep knowledge of the respective cultural product as well as a keen awareness of what everyone else has ever said about it. I would love if my first thought when entering a bookstore were something other than a slight panic at all the new releases, and it would be very nice if I had the strength of character to withstand the pull of Instagram for more than five minutes.

The fact that there is such a thing as Blinkist could be interpreted as an admission, even for the sunniest of optimists, that the competing demands on our attention have virtually chilled us all, and I would be glad if the solution were offered brought me peace. The real solution feels so arduous and so difficult – stoically ignore the hysterical claims about your torn attention span, stop looking at nonsensical ads on Instagram, read one book from start to finish and then read another – if there was an easier way out , I would probably take it.


Source photo: stopwatch by Andrei Kuzmik / Shutterstock



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