Out of Sight, Out of Mind

from Issue #1, 2014

by Craig Miller

In an interview conducted by James Fallows of The Atlantic, productivity expert David Allen of GTD fame made a comment that has broad implications for all of us in the magazine world. Speaking of his reasons for keeping real, on-paper notes, he says, “The problem with all this digital stuff is ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ That’s the bad news about the computer and why low-tech is oftentimes better—because it’s in your face. I know quite a number of people, high-tech people, who have gone back to paper-based planners and lists because it’s much more evident, and it doesn’t sort of go away and you [don’t] go numb to it, which you can very easily do on the computer.”

I think this is analogous to magazines. Magazines we want to read are a lot like a “to-do” list. The easier they are to file away, the easier they will be to ignore. That’s the great thing about a physical object like a printed magazine. It’s right there, in the way, until we take action and either read it, file it, or decide to throw it away.

Printed pages have a way of raising the psychological cost of discarding. I am probably not the only person who has kept a magazine to read later because something caught my eye as I was in the process of pitching it out. An image, an ad, a headline: something snared my attention. That’s usually not the case with digital files.  If the subject line or the title doesn’t grab me, it’s gone.

The persistence of printed material can be a huge advantage to advertisers, especially advertisers in enthusiast publications where readers are likely to linger over images that interest them: boats, horses, fashion, food, exotic locations. Those images don’t need to be approached through a device that must be powered up, because print is always “on.”