What Happens When You Read Only What’s on Your Phone

The other day I issued a tweet that contained a link to a PDF copy of one of my articles. That prompted the following reply from someone I didn’t know: “A pdf? Too hard to read on my phone. Pass.”

I replied in a way that suggested that I though the sender one of the contingent who regard it as their god-given right to have all information, now, for free, and on their terms. The sender, turn, replied in way that suggested that he thought I’m an uptight jerk.

We closed out our exchange in a more congenial way, but I was left with what I know is an unoriginal thought: what if we read only what makes its way to our phones?

Consider the article in question. (It’s here. But remember—it’s a PDF!) It’s not Einstein’s theory of relativity, but it’s not a piece of fluff either. I’m not sure that anyone who reads it in the snatched moments that are the hallmark of phone reading—waiting in the dentists office, waiting for the train—is going to grasp the nuances.

And even if you find yourself with your phone and oodles of time for reading, the screen size would likely limit your attention.

So at at a time when distractions risk atomizing our attention span, like dandelion seeds drifting in the wind, I wonder whether our increasing reliance on our phones risks limiting what we read and limiting our comprehension.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

4 thoughts on “What Happens When You Read Only What’s on Your Phone”

  1. Thanks for the information. That article would be easy enough to reformat, seeing as it’s just a PDF of a Word document. When the PDF is of the article as published, that’s presumably a different matter.

  2. I’ve been thinking about this for a little while now. I have clients who want to minimise the steps they take to view reports and documents we submit. I also find we tend to write more for the Web lately so paper-based models like multi-level numbering are less useful.

    We are increasingly drafting in MultiMarkdown and I am very interested in publishing documents in HTML and sending clients HTML files instead of Word or PDF. The obvious problem with this is not really being able to annotate HTML documents so that won’t work for negotiated documents but as final reports, it is an interesting option.

  3. My eyes are happy to say that I’ve conquered the urge to read attachments on my iPhone. They can wait until I get to my iPad or computer.

  4. I encountered this very problem myself and wrote a script that converts PDFs to text for reading on mobile devices. It’s called Morpdf (pronounced “Morph”): http://michaelcaruso.net/morpdf — you can also do the conversion directly on your mobile device. The file is converted and then lives on a server, so it’s accessible from any device (I recommend converting only public files for now). More here: http://michaelcaruso.net/blog/morpdf/. It’s certainly not perfect (only a 0.1 release), so feedback is always welcome!


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