It’s 11PM on a Wednesday night. You are lying in bed, scrolling through Twitter. Or Instagram. Or Facebook. Or Flipboard. You reach the end of the feed, and a loading animation appears. More news loads. More pictures appear. You scroll again. The loading animation appears. More content loads. You continue scrolling. There is no end. There is no completion. The cycle of news, the stream of new content continues unabated. As you sleep, the feed will refill once more, like an enormous lake being refilled by rain. By the next morning, your iPhone will be in your hands once more. Scrolling. The loading circle appears. More content to consume. There is no end. There is no conclusion. And that needs to change. That hollow sense of dissatisfaction needs to be replaced by the sense of achievement which can only be found by finishing something. By reaching the end.
The one great loss which has resulted from the availability of huge volumes of information online is a sense of completeness. When reading a newspaper, it always ends. There is a finite volume of text within that paper that can be read. And that’s key to the reading experience. The knowledge that when you reach the end, you will know all there is to know. When reading a book, you read with absolute confidence that when you turn over to page 500, you will know the answer. You will know how it ends, and you will have finished something.
The emergence of infinite-scrolling apps like Instagram and Facebook have rejected that experience. At first, it felt great. When there is an infinite amount of content available, we can never be bored. When there is always something new to read, or something new to know, our appetite for information can never be left unsatisfied. It’s like walking into an all-you-can-eat buffet. At first it feels great. But three hours in, you feel bloated and over-indulged. After spending hours scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Flipboard our mind feels tired. We feel intellectually bloated, and yet completely unsatisfied. Why? Because there is more out there. What if I’m missing out on something? What if there is some critical piece of knowledge just three flicks of my finger upwards?
This problem of endless dissatisfaction needs to be solved. Mobile app developers need to recognise that a boundary has been crossed. That sometimes, even if not always, people just really want to finish something. Yahoo’s News Digest is attempting to solve this problem, but for a very niche audience. The app distributes the same news content to every user of the app, which is clearly an unsustainable solution. To solve the problem of infinite content, we don’t need to lose personalisation. There is no reason why Facebook, Instagram or Twitter can’t algorithmically determine which, say 20 posts are important to us, and give the option to only view those. There is no reason why a news app can’t collate the top ten stories from our local and international news sources and display just that content.
A finite list of news. An Instagram feed that can be finished. A Twitter feed that ends. Maybe when apps like this are available, at 11PM on a Wednesday night we will be able to feel a sense of completion. There will be no loading animation when we reach the bottom of the feed. We will read the stories we need to read. Know what we need to know. We will finally be satisfied. Or, after all, maybe not.
Note: The cover image is a reference to the 1984 movie The NeverEnding Story.