Is there a medically-recognized ailment known as magazine addiction? If not, perhaps there should be. Victims of this ailment can be easily recognized, usually by the postal workers who must lug the magazines to the addressee’s doorstep and try to somehow fit the periodicals into the mailbox.
Magazine addiction has several causes, although an average addict may not manifest every symptom. Loneliness and a sense of isolation can be a trigger. If I feel disconnected to the human race, the arrival of a dozen or more magazines each month can make me feel plugged in to the world. If Sally flunked out of high school and is tired of hearing her better-educated neighbors talk about high-falutin’ topics such as Vladimir Putin and the federal reserve, she may succumb to the notion that compulsive reading of many magazines will elevate her into membership in Mensa. Good luck with that, Sally.
If you randomly examine, say, 20 different magazines, you’ll be struck by a disillusioning fact: only a few will have much worthwhile content. Many – if not most – publications are nothing more than advertising vehicles. The publishers don’t really want to inform or educate you and me. They want us to rush out and buy the mostly unnecessary products they advertise.
To help create or feed our addiction, many publishers lower their yearly subscription rates to basement levels. Each week I receive magazine offers so low in price I almost feel guilty not to subscribe. For 10 bucks or less I can get a year’s worth of “The Duck Hunter’s Gazette” or the beautifully illustrated “Slim Butt,” telling women (and men, I suppose) 80 ways to make their fannies appear slender. The publishers don’t survive on the money we send them for our subscriptions; they get most of their profits from advertising. And that depends on how high they can boost their circulation.
When it comes to spying on the habits of Americans, the CIA and National Security Agency are pikers compared to the publishing Mafia. Although a magazine may assure you that it will not give out your address, don’t believe it. Let’s say that in January you subscribe to “Mortuary Monthly.” Within weeks you’ll be getting subscription offers from “Modern Gravestones” and “Funeral Wear.” Soon will come notices from “Cremation World” magazine.
A year ago I made the mistake of subscribing to a publication of the Harvard medical school. Today I’m on the subscription target list for the Mayo Clinic, the Hebrew Colonic Digest, Prevention magazine, Fitness, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Diet Tips for Astronauts and a new book, “How I Survived a Month of Lithuanian Cuisine.” If I followed all the advice in these publications, I’d be the healthiest man in my psychiatric ward.
Some magazines can be worth subscribing to just for the gifts they offer. I have a closet half-filled with jackets, duffel bags and overnight cases, all of them bearing the logos of the publications I signed up for.
Although a magazine addict will seldom go bankrupt from his (or her) habit, he will eventually wake up to the fact that he’s running out of spare time. Before his addiction took hold, he had a social life, he exercised, loved to cook, played with his children, attended prayer meetings, all that good stuff. As his magazines piled up, he gradually abandoned all that. Today he devotes all his discretionary hours (or minutes) to reading the eight or 10 publications that have arrived during the past week.
Except the magazine addict doesn’t really read. He merely skims and browses. There’s not enough time to actually concentrate on the details. If he takes the time to do so, he’ll be cutting into the time remaining to attack the other stories or publications that await.
Recovery from magazine addiction often comes when the subscriber stops to ask this question: “Do I really need, or want, to know all this stuff?” That’s what happened to me a few years ago as I plowed through The Economist, a superb British weekly newsmagazine. If I spared four hours on each issue, I was plugged into not just the big stories such as a new pope, but also such throat-grabbers as the plunging of eggplant prices in Regurgistan. I finally took my fingers off the pulses of the world, and I’ve been much happier since.
I still love magazines, and I don’t mean this column as an advisory against them. But like food, sex or good conversation, there should be a limit. Once we decide to draw the lines, life can still have just as much meaning as when we were on our reading rampage.