Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 May 2019

Blinkist: books in brief app fails to impress

Are Blinkist and Joosr the latest weapon against our soon-to-be-extinct, click-dulled attention spans, or the future of reading in our time-starved societies? We OD'd on knowledge to find out.
Crippled America on Blinkist. Courtesy Rob Garratt
Crippled America on Blinkist. Courtesy Rob Garratt

When I heard about Blinkist and Joosr, I balked. How could anyone presume to condense a considered tome – to capture a writer’s intent, argument or voice – in a 15-minute read?

It’s the latest weapon to target our soon-to-be-extinct, ­internet-dulled attention spans, I presumed – and a personal insult to the sacrosanct nature of an author’s work. In short, as it were: condensation equals condescension.

I begrudgingly give it a try. After all, what is more ­insultingly ignorant than ­presumption?

I sign up for Blinkist’s free, three-day trial. Let’s overdose on knowledge and see how much I can “learn”.

I start with John McHugo’s Syria: A Recent History, a book I have been meaning to read since its release last year but haven’t found the time to.

The opening page – or “blink” as they call it – sets out ­bullet points detailing the key contents of the book. A summary of the summary – ideal for time-starved readers who are undecided about whether they can spare even 15 minutes to cram the entire history of a nation.

Clicking through the nine blinks that follow, my heart fell with every generation-­jumping sentence. Leaping from the 1516 Ottoman conquest of Greater Syria to the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement in a matter of seconds, I began to wonder why I wasn’t just reading Wikipedia – for free. Any semblance of the author’s authority, depth or voice had been extinguished.

I recall hearing that Nelson Mandela’s 630-page ­autobiography Long Walk to Freedom boasts one of the most disappointing buy-to-read ratios – it is a work everyone feels the need to have on their shelf, but few have actually finished. Guilty as charged, I figured I could fake it.

I quickly discovered that I will still need to pull out that dusty paperback off the shelf some day. Blinkist offers little beyond a cursory biographical refresher course.

Worse, Mandela’s life is described in the third person, as if objective fact. Yet the source material is one great man’s first-person recollections of an incredibly contentious period of history. Superfluous summaries are one thing, but the danger of misrepresentation – the blurring of fact and opinion – seems startlingly clear.

With this in mind, I turned to the most blatantly spurious work I could find – Donald Trump’s election pitch, Crippled America.

Here, the republishers have the good sense to present Trump’s more controversial arguments as just that (with the qualifier “argues Trump” for example) – and, to their credit, the glaring errors in the would-be president’s logic remain clearly identifiable.

However, Blinkist’s detached abstracts offered no sense of the man who wrote them – nothing of the famed charisma, buffoonery or arrogance. I was disappointed – after reading a megalomaniac’s justification for building a wall between Mexico, I should have been seething with rage. As it was, I just felt “blinked” out.

And this is where, for me, condensed reading fails – your Trump should have made me livid, Blinkist. Until you can manage that with your summaries, I will find my facts elsewhere.

rgarratt@thenational.ae

Updated: July 19, 2016 04:00 AM

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