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Don’t blink: Are micro-books the new micro-blog?

Posted by Alex Warren on 17th August 2017

A few years ago, I used this blog to write about the rise of context-free information. Back then, I was arguing that microblogging and aggregation services such as Twitter and Feedly weaken our understanding of the world by stripping knowledge of its context, converting it into digestible — but ultimately worthless — chunks of information.

In the four years since I wrote that post, the demand for superfast information has only worsened. From the decline of long-form journalism, to the rise of the slideshow listicle, today’s internet-centric society increasingly believes that if things can’t be understood in the blink of an eye then they simply aren’t worth bothering with.

One of the most recent examples of this trend has been the change in the way that people read. Once, reading was considered a leisure activity — a pastime that people undertook either because they enjoyed the process, or because they were keen to understand a subject in significant depth. In the age of superfast information however, reading has turned into a race to absorb the most content possible, regardless of whether you enjoy the process of reading, or even truly understand the content being so rapidly consumed.

Nowhere is this change better summed up than through Blinkist, a reading application design specifically for the age of the “micro-book”.

Offering over 2000 non-fiction titles, Blinkist converts book chapters into a series of 1-2 paragraph “blinks”. These blinks can then be flipped through — or listened to as an MP3 — allowing users to “read” entire books in a matter of minutes.

I’ve been using Blinkist now for just over a year and — as someone with a nine-minute commute — I must confess its charms are not lost on me. Over this time I’ve read blinks on everything from time management, right through to the evolutionary history of kissing. But has my use of Blinkist made me any more informed?

On the surface, yes.

Blinkist has provided me with the ability to talk very broadly about a wide variety of subjects, something which — in the internet age — is more appreciated than ever. It has also allowed me to engage with subjects I wouldn’t normally explore, and to regurgitate those subjects with a certain smug satisfaction when called upon to do so. What it does not do however is provide me with any depth or understanding or real argument. All the information I gather from my morning blinks is surface level, and any scrutiny or deeper conversation with an actual expert very quickly reveals the shallow nature of understanding that Blinkist provides.

As with so many other internet technologies, Blinkist provides raw information without the necessary context required to turn that information into knowledge. To my mind it is the tool of choice for the pub quiz champion rather than the subject-matter expert. As a result, I find it hard to see the rise of blinks as any real substitute for long-form reading.

What Blinkist has created however, is the perfect tool for the social media age. It allows me to hold strong opinions, write blog posts and make comments, all on subjects I know little to nothing about. What Twitter has done for the newspaper article, Blinkist is doing for the book and in that respect, I predict that it will to go extremely far.

Blinkist democratises information by making everyone feel like an expert on any subject. Whether they are an expert or not is irrelevant — especially in an age when opinions and superfast reactions are rated above all else.

With that in mind, I encourage everyone to download Blinkist, if only to fulfil a lifelong dream of becoming the local pub quiz champion. If however, you’re looking to develop real in-depth knowledge of a subject, I’d suggest sticking to more traditional paperbacks. Sadly, becoming an expert still takes more than the blink of an eye.

Alex Warren

Alex Warren is an expert in AI and marketing technologies. He has published two books, Spin Machines, and Technoutopia and is regularly quoted in PR, marketing and technology media. In his role as a Senior Account Director at Wildfire he helps tech brands build creative strategies that deliver results and cut through the marketing BS.