Read-It-Never: Instapaper and therapeutic self-delusion

Apps like Instapaper were supposed to help us read more great online content. Too busy to scroll through that thousand-word thinkpiece? Click a button, and it’s queued up for perusal later on.

But, for me, “later on” never comes. Instapaper is a landfill, where I bury articles—permanently. I currently have 3,366 unread items in my queue. Yes, that’s thirty-three hundred and sixty-six pieces I never came back to read. Some of these date back years and cover topics long since made irrelevant by the passage of time. There’s no chance that I’d ever want to exhume them.

My recent realization? Clicking ‘read later’ isn’t about bookmarking great content. Rather, it’s my way of ignoring how little great content I actually read. It’s a tiny, meaningless gesture, a sort of therapeutic self-delusion. “I’m the sort of person who reads this,” I proclaim with every queued post.

But… I’m not. Not recently, at least.

Maybe that’s okay. After all, no one can read everything they stumble across on the web. If an article really intrigues me, I’m going to read it now. Read-it-later apps help me let go, to sift out the chaff and toss it into the wind. With Instapaper, I can set aside online content without too much debilitating self-judgment.

Still, although I seldom revisit my queue, I can’t quite bring myself to declare Instapaper bankruptcy; I can’t hit that ‘Archive all’ button. There’s some small part of me that still thinks I might eventually get around to reading those 3,366 articles. You won’t always feel so exhausted at day’s end, I tell myself. You won’t always be so busy.

(I’m a good liar.) ■