The Instapaper Effect and How Its Rewiring My Brain

Instapaper is hands down one of my favorite iOS apps, if not my favorite.  I downloaded the free version in September of 2010, upgraded to the free version about a year later, and have used it multiple time per week since then.  

It's a great app that lets you store any article/column/blog post from the web locally on your phone or tablet and keeps those devices in sync.  It's perfect for lazy weekends, laying in bed at night, or for long trips.  Not only do I use it for the local storage when I'm in an increasingly rare location without WiFi, but I also use it as my primary reading list that I can turn to at anytime to find a good read.

With all of the app's positive attributes and the dividends it has paid by allowing me to consume scores of articles at my own pace, you would think I'd have no problems with it.  However, I've lately noticed an alarming trend in my habits that I'll term the Instapaper Effect.

When I first started using the app, I would always scroll down to see how long a piece was and if it would take me more than 7-10 minutes to read (I'm a slow reader, too), then I would probably Instapaper it to read at a later date.  If I was just laying around or not busy, I would just go ahead and read it at that moment.  The longer I had Instapaper, the shorter my threshold became for read now vs. Instapaper.  I started Instapapering 5 minute articles.  Then, anything over a page.  It's at the point now where I may scroll, but I don't really care what length I see, I'm going to Instapaper any article I find during the workday.  It's not uncommon for me to Instapaper a mere four paragraph blog post.

While this tendency may ostensibly seem like it's bolstering my productivity by not allowing me to get distracted during the day, that's not true.  Studies consistently show that breaks from work or studying boost ultimate productivity and I have to believe reading something interesting and/or relevant is one of the best ways to realize one of those pauses.  Instead, I'm quietly getting more unproductive by refusing to give myself a break with an article. 

On top of the productivity concerns, it's just making me plain lazy.  There's no better word than lazy to describe putting off reading a four paragraph piece of writing that is relevant to your career or personally interesting to you.  Instapaper has stoked this sloth-like behavior by reinforcing to me that it's OK to procrastinate these short reads and to hopefully come back to them later in my long queue.  Obviously, though, when Instapaper becomes a chore of choking down a dozen four paragraph blog posts on a myriad of topics intermixed with longform writing, I'll absorb less information and start resisting the queue that I've loved for so long.

Finally, I've noticed the Instapaper Effect starting to manifest itself in other areas of my life other than just reading.  Want to tell me a story, but it's going to take longer than a couple minutes?  Can't I just Instapaper this for later?  Do I really need to spend all this time focusing on content, right now?!  It's getting harder for me to focus on any content that isn't 100% on my terms, and that's terrible.  

Has anyone else experienced similar results from using Instapaper?  I think it's easy to curb with focus -- the next time you're about to Instapaper something, force yourself to answer how long it would take to read and if that would really set your day back.  I'm willing to bet we all have several five minute pockets in the day where we would be well-served to read something in the spur of the moment rather than saving it for later.  I haven't been savoring those moments, but I'm going to make it a point to pushing back on Instapaper.