Some rights reserved by ktheory
I’m one of those people who reads everything. When I first moved to the UK and started using public transport to commute to work in London, I was thrilled by the idea that I could read a book all the way to work. Even if the train was one of those dreadful sardine-tin numbers so common on the South West Trains line from Richmond to Waterloo, I’d settle for reading the panel advertisements in the train or casually reading a page of someone else’s book over their shoulder (yes, I’m one of those people I’m afraid). I’ll even read the back of a deodorant can if nothing else is to hand.
So when I read an interview with the Economist’s chief executive Andrew Rashbass in The Guardian late last year it struck me that I’d never given much thought to how I personally consume content when I read. When I got to thinking about it, I began to realise that they way that I am continually switching between digital and print content is beginning to impact on the way I consume both.
In the interview Rashbass talks about the “lean-back, immersive, ritual pleasure” of reading the Economist in print as compared to the “lean-forward, interactive” way in which people use the publication’s website.
‘Lean-back content’ and ‘lean-forward content’ are terms that have been used a great deal with reference to online content creation, although it seems the definition of each varies a little depending on who is doing the talking. My understanding is that with lean-forward mediums, people are actively engaged in scanning the content and looking for specific information. This is how most of us use the Internet and certainly how I read news online. What’s interesting is that I’ve become conscious that this is becoming how I read news in print too. My attention span is shorter and once I’ve got the key points of the story I want to move on to the next.
There’s always been something about that which has made me feel guilty, as if I’m somehow not ‘reading properly’. For me, the joy I find in reading has always been about the ‘lean-back, immersive pleasure’ that Rashbass talks about, so it’s lean-back mediums that I’m more comfortable with.
Lean-back mediums are those that tend to be regarded as more passive, with the most common example being vegging out in front of the TV. (Although anyone who thinks that people don’t engage TV content clearly hasn’t heard me ranting at the BBC Breakfast presenters when they pose ridiculous questions to interviewees.)
The point I’m getting to, in a roundabout way (and if you’re reading this in a lean-forward way, this is the point you’re after) is that both forms of content exist, and regardless of what each person’s individual experience of consuming content is, everyone does both. As I see it this bodes very well for the future of my favourite forms of print – books and magazines, because both are full of lovely lean-back content.
Now, get back to leaning forward.