When Google announced the impending extinction of Google Reader, the Internet opened itself up to reveal a surprisingly benevolent though misguided frame of mind. Lifehacker posted a bevy of Reader alternatives, which did nothing but confirm that nobody on staff actually uses the application. It’s probably right that Reader is closing down to make way for snazzy new features like Google Glass, since it’s clear that its user base has been dwindling with the meteoric rise of Twitter. But I’m in mourning nevertheless.
Yes, I am one of the select few who still uses Google Reader. This places me within a demographic composed of people who otherwise cannot view blogs due to the strict censorship of their home countries. I also use a service called iGoogle, whose own identity as an endangered species is something nobody has pointed out, which leads me to believe that I’m the only person in the world who still uses it. By now, I’ve come to realize that the Internet as I know it is slowly being taken away from me. Who knew one could turn into a cultural dinosaur at the tender age of 21? Not I.
There’s literally nothing floating around the World Wide Web that resembles the wonder that’s Google Reader. Believe me, I’ve tried to find it. I spent a frustrating four to five hours trying to adapt to The Old Reader, a website that purports to resemble Google Reader in its nascent stages but is instead extremely slow and doesn’t calibrate as it should. Then I tried Feedly, a color-blocked nightmare with a mass of extra services that slow down the website’s information delivery. What Feedly’s to-do lists have to do with RSS feeds, I have no idea.
Twitter landed closest to the type of service I was looking for — a no-frills interface with a button click that allows the user to quickly subscribe and unsubscribe to accounts he or she’s interested in. But after the initial learning curve (what is MT? What does RT mean when followed by a period?), I realized that Twitter moves too rapidly for me to keep up. I have what could be known as a compulsion to reach Reader Zero — a state that signifies that I’ve read every single item on my Google Reader — and with Twitter, this position is impossible to achieve. Every time I paused to open up another news window, new Tweets would eternally zoom into view. I felt like Alice running on the Red Queen’s racetrack, exerting all of my mental willpower just to keep pace.
What attracts me to Google Reader is the faux sense of empowerment it can imbue the user. The Internet is a big, scary place that explodes with information in every cranny you look, but Reader allows me to harness that information with a tasteful interface that doesn’t require me to click all over the place to get my news. I have an expansive but manageable subscription list that updates frequently but not too frequently. It’s small enough to finish but substantial enough for me to not get bored. And once I reach that good, glorious Reader Zero, I can trick myself into thinking that I’ve finished reading the Internet.
By now I’ve endured all five Kubler-Ross stages of grief, oscillating from denial to anger to depression. Only recently have I swung around to acceptance. As disheartening as it might be to lose a central part of your Internet livelihood, it’s worth it to take a step back and realize what is and isn’t owed to us. Everything on the Internet is more or less free — it wasn’t created with me specifically in mind. Anything that takes a hold of the Internet collective exemplifies the paradigmatic cultural shift that the rest of society is undergoing. I know that few people use Google Reader and therefore most might not sympathize with my particular situation, but we would all do well to realize the extinction of anything beloved is less a personal affront and more an important truth of existence. Power to me might represent an RSS feed, and to others the ability to frequent a local coffee shop, but none of that is power. Power is held by something greater than all of us, and that’s culture. Culture is neutral — and while it might not represent the will of the individual every time, it does represent the will of the collective, all the time.
Jennifer Xu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.