I consider myself to be a staunch traditionalist in most respects. I enjoy books in print, not on a tablet or computer. I tried as hard as I could to modernize my note-taking by using an overpriced iPad and stylist but ultimately decided notebooks were less distracting. I am incredibly stubborn and find it difficult to admit that my way of doing things, regardless of how ineffective, is the right way to do it.
With that said, I understand that with modernization, some ways of doing things must be revised to make tasks easier. I am currently typing this column on a computer because that happens to be what I have available to me at this current moment, and my handwriting happens to be similar to that of a middle school boy. In the vein of accepting things in their new form, I found myself interested in a new app that advertised its ability to modernize reading by making it more time-efficient.
The app Blinkist was founded in August of 2012 out of Berlin, Germany, but began to take off around the year 2021 in the states. The app is a glorified forum for Cliff Notes: similar to SparkNotes but with a much more millennial-esque design. In short, the app publishes short summaries of books instead of the full form, turning the ‘grueling’ endeavor of reading a book in its entirety, God forbid, into something much less exhaustive. I have found that this app has sucked out all of the fun parts out of reading.
One thing I will commend the app for is its commitment to making you believe that it can change your entire life. At the very first moment you log on to the app, it sends you a survey of questions in an attempt to discern your motive for downloading the app. It asks you how you would like to grow your mind, where in your life you would like to see improvement and what kinds of things you would be interested in learning more about. The app even goes so far as to recommend books that promise to make you happier — summaries that hypothetically would make you happier, of course. I am not underestimating the power of a good read. I am, however, not entirely sure how a summary of a book can provide you with all of the same insight and promises as one in its full form.
The app features summaries from 5,000 bestselling nonfiction books. When I first got the app, I decided to start by reading the synopsis for my favorite nonfictionbook, “Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay. I had reread it about a week prior to hearing about this new app.
I was ready to see how many of my favorite parts of the book had been omitted. Unfortunately, it was a vast majority of the book. What’s even worse is that the parts that were cut were the most enjoyable parts to read. My favorite chapter of the book, “To Scratch, Claw, or Grope Clumsily or Frantically” is, in my opinion, the best and most enjoyable read of Gay’s. Blinkist omitted this entire essay. Instead of featuring her most compelling narratives contained in “Bad Feminist,” the rewriters of Blinkist chose to only feature the more abstract aspects of her book. Reading the Blinkist version of “Bad Feminist” was much like reading a SparkNotes summary minutes before an in-class essay (I know I’m not the only one who has done this, students don’t kid yourself); the knowledge was all there, but the best material was glazed over.
Ultimately, this app is for non-readers. I respect its intention of getting more people introduced into the world of reading. I also respect that it encourages people’s desire to learn. The intention of the app is merited. As a reader, I just cannot love this app. To anyone who uses or has thought about using Blinkist: I commend you for your desire to grow your mind, but know that there are much more enjoyable ways of doing this.
The point of reading to me extends much further than making yourself appear to be knowledgeable to others in conversation. To me, that is the most superficial intention to have when reading. Reading is about feeling something through the text. To me, reading is similar to looking at art. We look for ourselves in art, and we look for ourselves in text. And through this process, we habitually, almost subconsciously fall into a state of meaningful introspection.
We discover empathy that we never knew we could have for something so far removed from us. There is hardly ever another medium that evokes self-reflection in the way that meaningful prose and narratives provide for us. Blinkist may be good for saving time, but what the app is depriving the reader of — a chance for self-reflection and relatability through story-telling — far undermines its merit.