THIS COLUMN CONTAINS THEMES THAT COMPUTERS MAY FIND OFFENSIVE. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Life’s a Magazine
One of the worldly pleasures that today’s young will never know—along with drive-in movies and Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy—is a subscription to Life. You’d come home from school, and there would be this great doormat of a magazine filled with stunning photos and articles about all kinds of neat-o stuff: inventions, disasters, wars, famous people, and weird fashions. When you opened it up, the huge, ink-smelling pages enveloped you. Life was better than any TV show.
Those outsize magazines, which included Look and The Saturday Evening Post, are long gone. Too costly to mail, among other reasons. Today’s magazines favor a more parsimonious format, closer to letter-size. Still, there’s a lot you can do with 8 3/8 x 10 7/8 inches.
Turn, if you will, to page 32. Keep your finger there and then come back. Dazzled? That’s print for you. Three hundred glorious dots per inch of crisp type and dense color (three times the resolution of your computer screen). And the various elements are not just thrown together at the whim of a cascading style sheet or web browser. They are the product of an Intelligent Designer. The choice of fonts, the positioning of the type, the vivid illustration, and the generous white space are all calculated to dazzle you. Now be honest—when was the last time you were dazzled by a web page?
Let’s do another experiment. Flip to page 32 and back again. Flip and back. Flip and back. See how easily you can switch between “page views” in a magazine? No need to juggle windows or open new ones. Now hold the magazine up to your computer and riffle through it really fast, just to blow your computer’s mind.
Why am I trying to sell you on a product you already own? Because the product—the thumbable entity we call a magazine—won’t be around forever, and I want you to appreciate what you will be giving up if you join the throngs who claim they can get all the information they need online. When magazines abandoned their larger-than-Life format, readers lost out. They will lose even more if magazines shed their earthly husks altogether.
In a magazine, you always know where you are. Your eyes and hands give you an instant read on where to find the table of contents and the letters page (the front) and, in our case, the class notes (the back). And you know exactly how much information is stored on this “site” (72 pages’ worth). To put it bluntly, the worst-designed magazine is still easier to navigate than the best-designed website.
And talk about fast. What computer lets you access high-resolution graphics instantly? I mean, with zero load times? Or lets you skim headlines and photos, and then zoom in on an interesting caption, then skip two pages, then come back to where you started, all within five seconds? Try that online and your computer will be singing “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do.” But here’s the acid test. If you’re still not sold on magazines, just try keeping a stack of websites in your bathroom.