Posted on October 8, 2013 in Archive

Time stamps for books mean leisure time can be micromanaged


Just like Disneyland tells you how much of your life you can expect to waste lining up for the Space Mountain ride, books are now including an estimated reading time with time stamps on the back cover. So you can plan ahead, of course.

Alexis Ohanian’s book Without Their Permission: How the 21st Century Will Be Made Not Managed looks like a typical book, with one exception – there is a stamp on the bottom left corner of the back cover that tells the reader that they can expect to complete the book in five hours, or a flight from New York to San Francisco.

This might be handy for travellers desperately looking for something to fill the various long-haul flights they are about to undertake. It might also be useful for those who enjoy reading but are limited on time.

But what if you’re a slow reader, and it takes you longer than the average adult reader to finish a book? What if you sometimes reread a page to make sure you fully comprehend the meaning of the text? That’s sure to be a confidence killer.

Worse still, this could inflate the egos of speed-readers everywhere. I can just hear the taunts now – “I’m about to complete this 6 hour book in half the time the label recommends! How many minutes did YOU take in the fifth chapter?”

Imposing this strange manner of discipline on your readers is not likely to endear you to them, which is why I don’t tell you how many minutes it will take to finish this blog (though the answer may surprise you!).

If you take more than 10 seconds to read this sentence, you’re doing it wrong.

It also comes off as measuring the amount of knowledge a book can impart to a reader in minutes and hours, rather than information gained or enjoyment. By including this label on his cover (which is believed to be first time anyone has done so), Ohanian is announcing to the world that his book is only worth 5 hours of your time.

Would you be likely to pick up a book that includes a message that tells you it will take 40 hours? Sure, it might have more knowledge, but will all of it stick if it’s going to take several weeks to complete? (That is assuming you read for leisure for an average of 2 hours a day at the desired pace of the author.)

This article claims that it’s a more manageable shift of measurement in a world that measures in tiny increments of time. However, some readers are daunted enough at the prospect of reading a book with more than 15 chapters – do we really need minute counts for each page as well as word and page counts? Coincidentally, Longreads can help tell you both for articles on the Internet.

In fact, why not make a sport out of it – you could have a timer counting down for each chapter, and the text vanishes if you don’t read quickly enough! That’ll teach the slowpokes.

All of this quantification of reading is a bit much. Reading shouldn’t just be something to while away the time spent on a train as part of the daily commute, nor should it be an achievement to unlock for those with fast moving eyeballs.

P.S. I hope you didn’t time yourself on this blog, but if you did – it shouldn’t have taken you more than 5 minutes, assuming you can read 150 words per minute.