The Couch Surfer: A 1,000-year story is about as practical as a shark in formaldehyde

Tim Walker: ‘Nine words long, it’s printed in ink that degrades over time, revealing a word every 100 years

Monday 22 June 2009 00:00 BST

Jonathon Keats is a conceptual artist from San Francisco, who once sat in a chair for 24 hours, thinking, then sold his thoughts as art. In 2003, he copyrighted his own mind, claiming it was a sculpture.

For the latest issue of the literary magazine Opium, he's written a story that takes a millennium to read. It's only nine words long, but printed on the magazine's cover in layers of black ink that will degrade over time in sunlight, revealing a single word every 100 years.

"Like most people, I live my life in a rush, consuming media on the run," Keats told Wired. "That may be fine for reading the average blog, but something essential is lost when ingesting words is all about speed. My thousand-year story is an antidote... You can't take in more than one word per century. That's even slower than reading Proust." It doesn't take 100 years to figure out that it's a pretty silly notion, and about as practical as, say, a huge dead shark in a tank of formaldehyde. If you don't end up throwing out the mag with the recycling, then your grandkids will.

Nobody's going to live for 1,000 years anyway, and even if there's still a copy of it knocking around in 3009, anyone who picks it up will only need about two seconds to read it, rendering the entire endeavour moot. And yet, and yet. Keats makes a good point. (Which is [I suspect] the idea of conceptual art.)

My working day is clogged with every newspaper, magazine, blog, aggregator, MP3 or viral video I can consume, be it a 10,000-word New Yorker profile or a 30-second clip of President Obama swatting a fly. This is a task I'm generally required to intersperse with some actual work.

Among the excellent long-form articles I've come across on this daily trawl through my browser bookmarks are Walter Kirn's "The Autumn of the Multitaskers" from The Atlantic (, which told me I was permanently scrambling my brain by trying to devour too much media; and "In Defense of Distraction" by Sam Anderson in New York magazine (, which purported to conclude, reassuringly, that Twitter et al were actually good for me, only to do the old switcheroo and tell me that no, I was definitely still scrambling my brain. Both pieces, by the way, took me hours – nay, days – to read, because I kept interrupting myself to check each of my four email accounts. In January, a music blogger called Matos started a one-man "Slow Listening Movement" to combat the sensory surplus of endless unenjoyed downloads. All year, he's "cleaning out his ears", downloading just one MP3 at a time, and forbidding himself to download another before he's listened to it.

The slow movement started with slow food, the consumption of regional, traditional produce rather than Big Macs. Slow travellers eschew planes and guidebooks in favour of local knowledge and walking shoes. Cittaslow ("Slow city") is the pursuit of traffic-, noise- and crowd-free urban living. It's all about taking a load off – appreciating the good things, ignoring the unnecessary frills. Surely you could apply the slow template to media? Why buy more books than I can read? Why download more MP3s than there are minutes in a day?

Do I have to read a blog about a smartphone I'll never own? Why waste two precious minutes on a trailer for a Kate Beckinsale movie? And what am I doing perusing reviews of New York restaurants when I rarely even eat in London ones? My aim isn't to make the act of browsing or reading itself more efficient, it's to improve my consumption habits; I just want to be more discerning. What I need is a slow browsing movement.

Turns out it already exists, and there's an entire online community devoted to it. It's called "life hacking", and there are at least two very popular lifehackers' blogs to teach me anything from managing my social network addiction to the number of sleep hours I need to maintain concentration and productivity. So, I guess I should add to my browser bookmarks and then just read that every morning, too? You know, I'm not entirely sure this is going to work.

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