Does anybody remember the art and science of page layout? People did studies on this. People were experts at this—professionals, who understood principles of page layout:
They knew how to insert pull-quotes judiciously, arrange photographs and other graphical elements in ways that considered how the eye would travel across the page—and across the whole spread.
They carefully considered color, columns, typography, and leading and kerning. They created white space, but avoided "trapped white space," because it drew the eye to the wrong place. They found mates for widows, found homes for orphans. They argued about margins—justified, or ragged right—over a bottle, deep into the night.
Now we read most of what we read online, and look what the fuck we're reading. This is smack in the middle of a long L.A. Times profile last week of President Trump's speechwriter Stephen Miller.
Reading these days is like hiking through a garbage dump.
As you're trying to concentrate on the paragraph at hand, you're noticing as you scroll: Oh, there's some garbage down there. Is that the garbage at the end of the article, or just some more garbage in the middle that I have to wade through to get to the rest of the article?
The junk is getting closer. Your eyes dart to the scroll-indicator on the right to see how far down you are. It says you're only halfway through the post. But does that mean you're halfway through the article, or just halfway through the hefty hunk of steaming junk that the article is embedded in.
And you must consider: Which do I hope is true?
All that noticing, wading, glancing, hoping—what could we possibly have left for considering the argument, let alone actually learning something and remembering it.
Designers used to insult a terrible layout by comparing it to a "ransom note."
These days, ransom notes are all we read.
Postscript: Writing Boots reader Peter Dean points out that there actually is a form of "reading boots": It's the "Reader View" feature inside most browser URL windows. If you click it, you get rid of all the "junk" and can read the article straight.