in Books, Posts, Slow Media

Limits as a feature

I have been an Audible subscriber, on and off, since 2014. Because I now spend two hours a day commuting, I have a lot of time to listen to books. Last year I started looking around for alternatives.

The main reason for looking elsewhere was because I didn’t want to keep giving money to Amazon. I had already switched to Kobo for Ebooks. When I looked into it there were two main alternatives: Kobo and Scribd.

The first one I tried was Kobo but I had a lot of trouble with the sync, which, considering I was only listening on my phone, so it only had to remember the last position on that device, was a deal breaker.

Scribd didn’t have those problems. In addition it had a different business model, allowing me to listen to an unlimited number of books in a month at no extra charge, compared to one a piece for both Audible and Kobo.

I only listen to audio books on my phone and I try to use that as little as possible. So, while I was quite happy with the content available on Scribd, I also had access to Ebooks, magazines and documents. Which was far from idea.

My self-control isn’t great and having access to so much content meant I found myself scrolling through magazines and adding books to my lists. In the end I was spending more time doing that than listening to audiobooks, which is primarily what I wanted it for.

Audible, by contrast, only has audiobooks. I can search for books to add to my list, but I can’t buy them, so the feature has limited appeal. It does have some “shows” that I can download and listen to from within the app, but because of the playback (stopping after every 20ish minute episode and needing me to access the app to start the next one) I haven’t got much interest in these.

So yesterday I cancelled my subscription to Scribd and went back to Audible. I expect to continue using the service for some time. I now see the limits of the app as a feature because they mean I no longer have to stress my limited self-control. When I removed the Scribd app from my phone I felt a great deal of relief.

It has started me thinking that limits are an often overlooked feature of analogue tools. When I am using a notebook and pen I don’t have to make any conscious effort not to ALT-TAB over to a website. When I am listening to a CD I don’t have to avoid the temptation of searching for another album or scrolling through other songs.

Perhaps these limits may make some things more difficult: finding a new book to listen, finding new music. But the one thing they make easier, focus, is worth the sacrifice of a few extra steps elsewhere.

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