How To Read The Link-Crazy Web Without Going Insane

Feel like your attention span operates at an inverse rate to your broadband speed? Here's how you can give the good stuff on the web the attention it deserves.

The kind of long-form reading you can do right now, on your computer or mobile phone, at the speed of a Google search, involves animated advertisements, multi-page articles smooshed into strange margins, and lots of attention-grabbing links to outside material. The kind of reading you want to do gives the material undivided attention, puts you in touch with your thoughts, and is much easier on your eyes.

There are, thankfully, tools to bridge the divide between the gratification of the web and the illumination of actual reading.

Strip down and simplify your text

The inconvenience and distraction of web reading has been addressed by a few different web geeks and entrepreneurs in a mostly similar fashion. If you don’t mind reading on a screen, but want that screen far less cluttered, these are the tools to turn to:

  • Instapaper: The king of clean text and convenience. First you drag Marco Arment's "Read Later" tool into your browser’s favorites/bookmarks collection. Then, whenever you see an article you want to read click the button. This will save your stories at the Instapaper website (which requires registration), and allow it be to read anytime via an iPhone or iPad app, or on your Kindle. One tip: view the article in a single page or printer-friendly version before you tap the Read Later button. 
  • Readability: As a pure text-and-images reading tool, Readability does a good job, and it’s easy to install on most browsers. To read articles later, though, and feel better about stripping out advertising, Readability asks for a minimum of $5 per month from readers, which it’s trying as hard as it can to send to great content creators—publications, bloggers, whomever. If you’re using the latest version of Safari, some of Readability’s features are built into a new "Reader" mode.
  • Read It Later: A simple app that lets you do what it says, on nearly any device you have with a screen.

Send good reads right to your Kindle

Got a Kindle? Thinking about getting one of those sleek new Kindle Fire tablets? Do some quality reading on your thin little screen, both hand-picked and expertly curated. Delivereads takes compelling content from around the web and pushes it wirelessly to your Kindle, with no effort on your part. Tinderizer makes it a one-click process to send web articles to your Kindle, where email and Wikipedia and Twitter won’t be able to find you for a while.

Have your computer read any text out loud to you

Computer-generated voices have improved, to the point where only the occasional five-dollar word or proper name gets a bit mangled. If you’ve got an article you want to get through, but just don’t have time not to double-task, enlist your headphones or computer speakers.

On a Mac, you can open up System Preferences, hit the Speech section, and look in the "Text to Speech" tab. There’s a box there to "Speak selected text when the key is pressed," which you should tick on, and then a "Set key" button, where you choose the keyboard combo you want to start reading what you see on your screen. Windows users can either dig into their "Ease of Access" settings in the Control Panel, or try an app like Balabolka. Both apps work best after your web reading has been run through one of the cruft strippers mentioned earlier.

Speed up your audiobooks (or any spoken word files)

If your literary-minded friends think that audiobooks aren’t really reading, they’re really going to flip when they hear that you’ve been clipping through books at nearly twice the standard speed. It’s easy, but not quite obvious, to change the playback speed on any file on any iPhone, iPod, iPad, or in Windows Media Player. On Android phones, both the official Audible app, and Osplay let you cut faster through your self-imposed reading list.

[Image: Library of Congress on Flickr]

Follow @KevinPurdy, and @FastCompany, too.