My desktop is my portal to the Internet. [1] Lately, I’ve needed to spend significant amounts of time away from my machine. So I took to printing articles and taking them with me.

The experience has been transformative.

As an example, consider this article:

Screenshot of the article in Google Chrome

And as I scroll further down:

Further down the article.

What a mess. Look at all the ads. Let’s enable AdBlock.

Screenshot of the article in Firefox with Adblock on

And further down:

Screenshot of the article in Firefox with Adblock on

The ads are gone. This is better, right?

Here’s how it looks when I print it:

Print View

Putting aside the blurriness of the last one, which was an artifact of how I took the photo, which do you prefer?

In the printed version:

  • There are no ads.
  • There are no distracting sidebar menus.
  • There’s no distracting menu on the top.
  • Links don’t work. I can’t distract myself by going to some other page.
  • There are no photos.
  • Oh, and although it’s not clear from my screenshot, there’s no wall of text on the bottom asking for a donation.
  • If I want to, I can write on it.

It’s just the article. You can focus all your attention on the content easily.

Regarding the images that have been stripped, ask yourself: Did the photo really contribute much to the article?

Incidentally, lest you think photos never get printed, the print view tends to make fairly good decisions on which images to print and which not to. I’ve yet to encounter an article I printed that didn’t print a relevant image.

For example, for this article, here is what the printed view looks like:

Printed view with images

Is the absence of links a good thing? I think so. It raises the barrier to wandering off, and if I’m really interested in what’s in the link, I make a note of it and click on it the next time I’m on the computer.

A more interesting question to ask yourself: Why do news articles encourage you to leave the article you are reading?

Only after I started doing this did I realize the filth I’d been living in all these years. I can’t go back to reading articles via the browser any more.

So I’ve changed my reading workflow. Now if an interesting article comes my way, I immediately print and staple it, and deposit it into a physical inbox. I then continue doing non-reading work on the computer. When I’m in the mood for reading, I get up from my computer, pick an article (either the one on top of the inbox or a random one), and sit somewhere in the house and read it.

The incidental benefits that this system has:

The font in printed view is fairly decent, and I get a consistent font regardless of the article I’m reading.

I am no longer tethered to the computer.

I often take a few articles with me and keep them in the car. If I’m doing errands and find myself in situations where I have to wait (e.g. doctor’s office, etc) I simply pick up articles and read them.

When I’m working on the computer (personal or job related), I am a lot less likely to get distracted by articles. If I find myself starting to read something, I go ahead and print it and put it in the inbox.

I used to keep lots of tabs open in my browser all the time. There would be tabs I’d opened months ago because it contained an article I intended to read. I no longer suffer from this.

I expected the pile of articles in my inbox would grow and give me a comparable amount of stress, but somehow it has never bothered me. I told myself if it ever came to that, I’d take a big pile of articles and throw them in the recycle box (conveniently located near it). So far, this has never happened.

I don’t really recall what I’ve put into the inbox, so I can’t experience any angst over “that article I really want to make sure I read one day”.

And of course, no eye strain.

The down side? Not the most environmentally friendly. I print on both sides of the paper, and 2 pages per side, so I get 4 pages per sheet of paper. So a 16 page article uses only 4 sheets. The font may seem small, but I’ve not had issues with the size. Still, if printing paper bothers you, read the section about Ereaders below.

Here is how I make the prints using Firefox.

  1. Click on reader view in the location bar (next to the star on the right).
  2. Go to the print dialog.
  3. Select Portrait orientation.
  4. Set 2 pages per sheet.
  5. For two sided printing, flip on short edge.

Occasionally you may need to adjust the scaling. I find I have to do 110-120% for Wikipedia articles, for example.

Some sites - Medium in particular - are hostile to printing. For that, use the Print Friendly extension.

What About Ereaders?

Ereaders can be great. In fact, 10 years ago I consumed articles using the “Fetch News” feature of Calibre. It takes a bit of tweaking per feed, but it was great. As an example, for news sites you can pass in the RSS feed and have it produce an epub with all the day’s news - once a day. You then sync with your ereader. It feels very much like reading a physical newspaper.

I did this for a year or two. The convenience was similar: I used to carry my ereader around with me, and there is no eye strain. Why did I stop? The size of the display, and the lack of crispness in the resolution. Once I can afford an ereader that’s comparable in size as letter/A4 paper, with at least 300 dpi, I may revert to this approach.

[1]I hate browsing the web on my phone.