Making Digital Media More Personal

Many people enjoy print books, magazines and newspapers because of the personal meaning and behavior that is associated with them. Even for friends I know who fully embrace digital media, it is hard to replicate the feeling of spending a Sunday morning with The New York Times and a cup of coffee. Or, the feeling of hiding in a nook with a good book, and escaping the world. Hard to do that when reading a book on an iPad, when email, Twitter, Facebook and the entirety of the web, is merely a swipe away.

But I see the gap narrowing between the personal connection we have with print, and the personal connection we can have with digital media.

This morning, I’ve been checking out a new iPad app called Flipboard, which is a “social magazine” that presents social media content in a magazine-like format. See Robert Scoble’s in-depth review here. What I like about Flipboard so far is how it lives up to the iPad’s “lean back” philosophy – that reading magazine content is a casual and personal experience of discovery. A break from the day, not a drive towards digging and sharing in a Twitter-like manic fashion.

As publishers and media companies continue to feel pressure to innovate in the digital arena, while protecting their established revenue models, I want to consider how we establish personal connections with media. I’ve heard the statement again and again that nothing can replicate the feeling of holding a book, of putting it on your shelf, of looking at it for years – a validation and reminder of one’s experience with it. Perhaps this is a cognitive trophy of sorts? Or can we not admit that sometimes our bookshelves are a way to show off to visitors – how smart we are, how varied our interests. That they are physical manifestations of what we feel we know, what we have experienced, what we are passionate about. And let’s face it – nobody cares about how varied or extensive our RSS feeds are. Or how many Apps someone has.

Music has been a passion of mine for (eek!) decades. Beyond the music itself, records and CDs have always had personal meaning to me, which I described in a recent post about physical media vs lifestyle media.

For me, music is no longer about ownership. Instead, it is about experience, sharing, connection to the artist, connection to other fans, and personal filtering, be it by playlist or mashup.

As I play with Flipboard this morning, I am getting the sense that a similar evolution is happening with magazine content. I still subscribe to plenty of magazine – but more and more find myself reaching for my iPad. And with Flipboard, I’m wondering if it doesn’t have to be a choice between one or the other.

And that in the future, my relationship with magazines will be less about that quiet Sunday morning with a cup of coffee, and more about experiencing, sharing, commenting and filtering.

Arguments about the ‘death of print’ seem besides the point to me. I love physical media for all the obvious reasons, including some sentimental ones. But I don’t feel great about dumping a newspaper in a recycling bin everyday when I know I can read it on my iPad. And for all the calls that “printed books will NEVER die,” it seems more like a debate than us really just choosing to make personal choices as we each evolve as individuals.

In my life, I am realizing more and more that media is not about stuff. Quite frankly, I’m tired of dusting stuff. Rather, media for me is increasingly about experience and connection. And I have to say, my life feels fuller because of it.