imageThis year’s Amazon shareholder letter from CEO Jeff Bezos focuses on the Kindle. I love the phrase he uses several times in the letter, “information snacking”:

“They’ve (electronic devices) shifted us more toward information snacking, and I would argue toward shorter attention spans.

“If our tools make information snacking easier, we’ll shift more toward information snacking and away from long-form reading.

“We hope Kindle and its successors may gradually and incrementally move us over years into a world with longer spans of attention, providing a counterbalance to the recent proliferation of info-snacking tools.”

Toward a great machine for both long and short reads

Actually, if it’s well designed, I’d like to think future versions of the Kindle will be the solution for both long-form reading and information snacking.

I just started reading The Last Lecture, via Mobipocket on my Blackberry. I always have my Blackberry with me, so I’ll read it in time slices throughout the day. In this situation I’m forcing the info-snacking Blackberry to serve as more of a long-form reading device. Not ideal, but certainly an adequate solution for a 224-page book.

Longer attention spans unlikely

Although Bezos hopes we’ll all develop longer attention spans, I think that’s highly unlikely. In fact, my bet is that future versions of the Kindle will have more and more info-snacking capabilities built-in. I just can’t see any device having a major impact on reading patterns and info-gathering tendencies, unless that device is simply encouraging even more info-snacking.


  1. I interpreted it as grabbing smaller pieces of information, news and other stories online vs. the longer form reading of, say, a book. I totally agree with him that e-devices have added to the ease with which I can info snack. I do it throughout the day on my Blackberry, for example.

  2. It’s the part about shortening attention spans that I don’t understand. Sure, I “snack” using my iPod Touch when I’m away from my desktop system, but all told I spend probably two to three hours a day reading the New York Times, the Washington Post, and a variety of tech sites and blogs. I’m far better informed than back in the days I got my news from a TV newscast and the local newspaper, The Daily Fish Wrap. And it’s all thanks to electronic devices.

  3. The complaints that Bezos raises concerning “information snacking” and “short attention spans” have a long and dubious history. Today Bezos warns us about “networked tools such as desktop computers, laptops, cell phones and PDAs”. He apparently fears that these tools will cause readers to consume only short and “non-nutritious” pieces of text. Back in 1982 the danger of informational junk food was embodied in a newly created newspaper. Time magazine wrote about ”McPaper” two years after its launch:

    When the first issue of USA Today appeared, journalists likened the rainbow-bright, telegram-terse new entry to fast food and nicknamed it “McPaper.” USA Today editors steadfastly retorted that they were trying to please readers, not their peers.

    A profile in the New York Times in 2007 says:

    The initial reaction within the profession was harsh. Ben Bradlee, the revered Washington Post editor, was quoted as saying, “If USA Today is a good newspaper, then I’m in the wrong business.” Mr. Neuharth and his staff embraced the derision. He replied that at least he and Mr. Bradlee agreed on one thing — “that he’s in the wrong business.” People in the newsroom adopted the “McPaper” label.

    Perhaps I am a bit cynical but I do not think that the typical attention span has really shortened. For most people the attention span is measurable only in picoseconds. The great thinkers of an age sometimes achieve microseconds. I can only manage a femtosecond.

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