Skip to main content

How magazines will be changed forever

By Craig Mod, Special to CNN
updated 10:58 AM EDT, Sun October 21, 2012
There's a satisfaction in reading a magazine from start to finish that can't be replicated digitally, says Craig Mod.
There's a satisfaction in reading a magazine from start to finish that can't be replicated digitally, says Craig Mod.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Craig Mod: Like Newsweek, almost all magazines will eventually go purely electronic
  • Mod: Physical magazines have start and finish; they give a sense of completion
  • He says digital formats lack edges and boundaries; it's harder for readers to focus
  • Mod: Until digital magazines make it easier to stop, there will be nostalgia for print

Editor's note: Craig Mod is a writer, designer and publisher. He is a 2011 TechFellow award recipient and a 2011/2012 MacDowell Writing Fellow. He has written for numerous publications including NYTimes.com, New Scientist, Contents Magazine, and Codex Journal of Typography, and is the co-author of "Art Space Tokyo." Follow him on Twitter: craigmod.

(CNN) -- Forget everything we know and love about physical magazines. Forget their length. Forget their size. Forget their weekly or monthly publishing schedule. Forget all these qualities except for one: What it's like to come to an end, and to take a deep breath.

Like Newsweek, almost all magazines will eventually go purely electronic. This shouldn't surprise anyone. Already, nearly 40% of tablet owners read digital newspapers or magazines, with nearly 10% doing so daily. Still, as I watch this shift, I can't help but feel a twinge of nostalgia. Not for the paper, but for the boundaries.

I miss the edges -- physical and psychological. I miss the start of reading a print magazine, but mostly, I miss the finish. I miss the satisfaction of putting the bundle down, knowing I have gotten through it all. Nothing left. On to the next thing.

Newsweek ending print edition, job cuts expected

Craig Mod
Craig Mod

It may seem strange to think about printed publications as having a "user experience." But they do, of course. Print is a technology as much as desktop computers and tablets are technology. One of the qualities most natural to the user experience of print is the sense of potential completion, defined by the physical edges. It is a quality that is wholly unnatural to digital formats.

The digital reading experience makes one want to connect and expand outward. Print calls for limit and containment.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Ted Nelson, who invented the term "hypertext" in 1963, also coined another word: Intertwingularity. Describing it, he said, "In an important sense there are no 'subjects' at all; there is only all knowledge, since the cross-connections among the myriad topics of this world simply cannot be divided up neatly." Later, he added, "Hierarchical and sequential structures, especially popular since Gutenberg, are usually forced and artificial."

The digital landscape is the perfect playground for actualizing the intertwingular, since the same information can be referenced in an endless number of locations, can be remixed freely, and need not abide by any single hierarchy.

It is this intertwingularity that can make navigating digital content so stressful.

While a stack of printed back issues of National Geographic may seem intimidating, it is not unapproachable. The magazines may be dense, but you know where you stand as you read them. But what about staring at an empty search box leading into the deep archive of nationalgeographic.com?

Petrifying. Boundless. Like standing on the edge of a giant reservoir in the dead of the night, looking down into its infinite blackness. Link after related link keeps pushing you along until, suddenly, you may end up reading about polar bears on an entirely different website, and maybe you haven't been up for air in hours.

Magazine websites, like the World Wide Web itself, open one up to continuous exploration through links and related content. There's beauty in that, if one is up for total immersion. But it's easier to become overwhelmed, or lost.

Linda Stone created the term "e-mail apnea" to describe holding your breath as you traverse the horrors of your inbox. I find myself experiencing digital apnea of all sorts. Google News apnea. Twitter apnea. Facebook newsfeed apnea. RSS reader apnea. In the face of endless content streams, it's hard to stop and take a breath.

There is no print apnea. Perhaps, at worst, one may experience library apnea -- standing before the vast greatness of the reading room in the British Museum, for example. But even then, it's different. There's the cozy smell of old books and the softness of the aged pages. It's more akin to basking in grandeur than to suffocating under information overload. It's hard to feel the same reverence for our 24/7 Twitter feeds.

The question "How deep does it go?" is one that that nobody had to ask the printed edition of Newsweek. Newsweek.com? It's not so clear. It's why we love "Most Popular" and "Most E-mailed" lists -- they bring some relief of edges to the digital page.

As more of our content consumption shifts digital, the onus lies on tablet and smartphone applications to find a way to create cleaner and more bite-sized forms of boundaries in a medium that doesn't want to be contained.

At the start of 2013, Newsweek joins the legions of other digital-only publishers. We're losing the paper, the touch and the romanticism of the printed object. But hopefully, we'll find a way to create new edges.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Craig Mod.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:22 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
updated 1:28 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
updated 6:10 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
updated 5:33 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT