We all know the feeling. You're sleepless in the sad hours of the night or stumbling around early on a hazy weekend morning in need of something to read, and that pile of unread books just isn't cutting it. Why not take a break from the fire hose of Twitter and RSS and check out our weekly roundup of essential writing from around the web about technology, culture, media, and the future? Sure, it's one more thing you can feel guilty about sitting in your Instapaper queue, but it's better than pulling in vain on your Twitter list again.
James Surowiecki looks at where RIM went wrong.
The New Yorker: James Surowiecki - Research in Motion and the BlackBerry’s Rise and Fall
Consumerization has been disastrous for R.I.M., because the company has seemed clueless about what consumers want. R.I.M. didn’t bring out a touch-screen phone until long after Apple, and the device that it eventually launched was a pale imitation of the iPhone. Although the BlackBerry brand name was once seen as a revolutionary success, over time R.I.M.’s product line became bewilderingly large, with inscrutable model names. If you’re a consumer, do you want the 8300 or the seemingly identical 8330? And the BlackBerry’s closed system has left R.I.M. ill equipped for a world in which phones and tablets are platforms for the whole app ecosystem.
Apple's skeuomorphic (plush leather backgrounds, iCal's stitching, Newsstand's bookshelves) tendencies are often singled out as bad design, but Apple is hardly the only offender. Most calendar apps, for example, still insist on letting users browse as if the interface were still restrained by the limitations of paper pages.
Wired UK: Clive Thompson - Retro design is crippling innovation
Now ask yourself this: why does Google Calendar — and nearly every other digital calendar, come to that — work in this way? It’s a strange waste of space, forcing you to look at three weeks of the past. Those weeks are largely irrelevant now. A digital calendar could be much more clever; it could reformat on the fly, putting the current week at the top of the screen, so that you always see the next three weeks at a glance.
Wired UK profiles Tumblr founder David Karp, setting the stage for a Sorkin-ready adaptation with the self-described "dippy, nerdy kid" building the simple blogging tool in 2006 during a two-week break with Marco Arment, building and innovating on the site's simple beginnings, playing the role of a minor New York media world celebrity, and managing the wild growth of one of the fastest growing social networks.
Wired UK: Tom Cheshire - Tumbling on success: How Tumblr's David Karp built a £500 million empire
"The social network that emerges out of Tumblr is interesting because it’s driven by content, not by the social graph that these other networks are building around," says John Maloney, the company’s president. And that content spreads quickly: on average, a Tumblr post gets reblogged nine times.
Joanne Mcneil considers her time using a cracked iPhone, which had the curious effect of prompting concerned strangers to strike up conversation, look at her oddly, and repeatedly worry about the shattered glass's danger of cutting up her fingers.
Rhizome: Joanne Mcneil - My Broken iPhone
But a digital device is not an alarm clock or a shelving unit. It will grow obsolete very quickly. Which makes the atemporal look of electronics by Apple more uncanny, more rarefied. The personal computer as Holly Golightly’s little black dress.
Author and Time book critic Lev Grossman and Regina Small consider what's happened to criticism in an age when you'll find endless ratings on everything and standards of literary merit seems to go out the window.
Time: Lev Grossman - Beyond Good and Awful: Literary Value in the Age of the Amazon Review
Not that things were better in the old days; in fact it was horribly oppressive. But post-Amazon and GoodReads, it’s much harder to maintain a stable, abstract idea of what literary value or greatness or what-have-you means — not in the face of all those stars. Personally I like The Great Gatsby, but if I wanted to make the case that my opinion about it was more valid or significant than those one-star reviews, I’m not sure how I’d go about it. "Personally" is about all that’s left.
and The Awl: Regina Small - I would never tell you that you are wrong, Lev Grossman
But you get to keep talking and so does everyone else — and if there is any way to transcend the crippling fear that you are but a tiny, isolated transient bit of consciousness, the first step might be the weird decision to accept that…you are a tiny, isolated transient bit of consciousness, who needs to hear the plaintive one-star cries of all those people who might be/definitely are/definitely aren’t wrong.
Maggie Gram covers the history of audiobooks — popularized in the 1930s when the Works Project Administration created the Talking Book (find out more at the Library of Congress) in response to the many soldiers blinded during World War I — and looks at the format's continued status as a second class citizen in the reading world.
n+1: Maggie Gram - Listening to Books
I thought about starting this essay by insisting that I listen to audio books for work, so that I could not be mistaken for that other kind of person, that kind of person who listens audio books because it brings her some kind of unsophisticated pleasure. I am not, I wanted you to know, your Aunt Paula. My kitchen is not decorated with rooster towel racks and rooster potholders and rooster trim. I am a very serious person.
Have any favorites that you'd like to see included in next week's edition? Send them along to @thomashouston or share in the comments below.