Instapaper Zero

I have figured out how to make it through my entire Instapaper queue, breaking the laws of Internet physics. Here’s how I did it.

Note: if you’d like to listen to this essay, a dramatic reading is located here:

I want to be a person who reads. I read emails, lots of them. I read tweets. But when it comes to long-form reads — the ones that are probably the most important in getting outside perspective, discovering new data, and staying informed about both tech and other industries — I send the articles into my read-it-later app. This can sometimes feel like a black hole.

My read-it-later app of choice is Instapaper, a betaworks company. A few months ago, Instapaper introduced a text-to-speech function. Articles are dictated by what sounds a whole lot like the Siri voice. For some people, that’s a non-starter, but I don’t mind it. Since I started using the text-to-speech feature, I’ve had a much easier time getting through my reading queue.

Last week, I tracked every word I “read” (heard). Here’s the breakdown of my listening data:

In total, last week I listened to 45 articles comprised of 78,737 words. According to “The Internet” average reading speed is 200 words per minute. This means it would take an average person 394 minutes — 6.5 hours — to read the same quantity of text. Using audio, I found almost an entire work day to read (a full 8 hour day if you take a realllyyyy loonnnng lunnnchh).

I listened at 2x speed, which Instapaper’s Brian Donohue tells me is 400 words per minute. So I had only to listen for 40 minutes per day to absorb in a week what would have taken me almost an entire extra day of work to read. Assuming I read at the average rate, that’s 2x leverage on time. This was also generally “found” time — I mostly listened while walking, which is a time that I don’t normally spend consuming content on my phone.

There are only so many hours in the day, so competition for consumers’ attention tends to be zero-sum. However, if users listen to their phones while walking, driving, cooking, or even just as a break from staring at a glowing display, then the audio channel seems to expand the total pie of entertainment time.