How We Move

Why tablet publishing doesn't synch up

But, back to Rupert. The Daily is a pure I-don’t-get-it-but-I’ll-be-damned-if-that-stops-me play (and who can stop me, anyway?). It was conceived by Murdoch himself, willed into being by Murdoch, and executed by him. A man who has an absolute belief in the medium of newspapers and almost no firsthand experience or interest in digital media—save for having sometimes to awkwardly pose next to a computer to suggest he might use one, although he doesn’t—decided to address the problem of old ways and new technology with the greatest certainty and resolve. The Daily is the result—a hopeless misreading of the form.

At other publishing companies there are hipper, more adroit people. But they are not that hip and not that adroit, and all of them are fundamentally connected to the old ways, too. And their cumbersome, inert, buggy, too-long-to-load, jazzy design, para-publishing products are the result.

Meanwhile, the mobile form expands and grows, driven by a basic question that most publishers have seemingly not asked: How does information relate to movement?

Books work because they require enough concentration to blunt the world around you. They provide anonymity. Music works, increasing everyone’s privacy. Games are the ultimate narrow focus. Constructing little cubicles is the art. Private when public—that’s the goal. I am not here, really. Blank me, please. I am blanking you.

There’s a loud, jarring, jumpy, desperate, look-at-me sense of tablet publishing—it tries too hard. It’s not just that tablet design invites people to look over your shoulder and enter your space—but it makes the reader self-conscious too. So much design, so little function. So much brand, so little purpose. Vulgar.

Curiously, periodical publishers used to be the experts on information and movement—specialists in portability. “People carry newspapers so other people see who they are,” Murdoch once explained to me.

But we move differently now, quietly, discretely, contemplatively, using technology to make ourselves smaller as we go.