Minimalist Igloos of Text

Slate's Culture Blog
July 13 2009 12:16 PM

Minimalist Igloos of Text

For those of you on the island of people who actually like to read stuff on the Web, point yourself toward Readability . The original post describes it best: Imagine a "Peace & Quiet" button on your browser. Readability strips away all the ads and links and visual clutter and leaves you with a minimalist igloo of text. It makes the Web appear like Harper's Magazine.

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Designers have achieved some consensus on how to make screen reading softer on the eyes: bigger text, shorter (but not too short) lines, and just the right amount of white space. Go here for a definitive take.

In a light irony, I installed Readability while doing research on attention span. The program helped me get to the end of many of the articles—a rare event in my Firefox window. So perhaps Readability will help you focus more and curtail Web-induced ADD. But, as my Readability-enhanced reading revealed, try not to fall prey to " the myth of the concentration oasis ." That's the coinage of the research psychologist Vaughan Bell, who asks us to stop whining about electronic distraction:

The past, and for most people on the planet, the present, have never been an oasis of mental calm and creativity. And anyone who thinks they have it hard because people keep emailing them should trying bringing up a room of kids with nothing but two pairs of hands and a cooking pot.

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Michael Agger is an editor at The New Yorker. Follow him on Twitter.

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