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The dying art of magazine reading

When I was growing up, there were always magazines lying around the house. The ever-present National Geographic on our coffee table was my first clue that other wildly different worlds existed beyond my suburban Virginia neighborhood.

Throughout my childhood, there were also sightings of Family Circle, Southern Living, Good Housekeeping, McCall's, Life, Sports Illustrated, Playboy (hidden in the trunk of my dad's car) and a funky '70s occult magazine that must have been a midlife crisis for my parents called Man, Myth & Magic.

I've been a magazine addict most of my adult life. At any given time, I've been a subscriber of Time, The Nation, Interview, Harper's, Vanity Fair, Ms., Latina, Rolling Stone, Spin, Real Simple, People, Elle, Architectural Digest, Runner's World, Utne, Vogue, Travel + Leisure, Dwell, The New Republic, Food & Wine, Entertainment, The Smithsonian, The Atlantic, Gourmet, Columbia Journalism Review, Cook's Illustrated … you get the picture. My recycling bin is always impossibly heavy.

So I should be thrilled about all the publishers launching their magazines on the iPad, right?

The Economist now claims 1 million monthly mobile readers of its magazine across Apple and Android devices. The magazine publisher Hearst says it expects to have more than 1 million paid digital subscribers by the end of 2012. Last week, holdout Jann Wenner, who swore that tablets were not for him, announced that Rolling Stone will be going digital.

I'm not one of those anti-techies who fears the Internet is destroying civilization. I don't believe today's young generation is doomed because they'd rather read online than on paper. I'm actually thrilled about all the possibilities technology is creating for my kids.

But a part of me mourns the loss of discovery that will inevitably occur when the printed word disappears.

Gone will be the opportunity for my kids to stumble across a riveting article or photo in a magazine they just happen to pick up, out of curiosity or boredom. Unless it's assigned for homework, what are the chances that they'll find an odd free moment to download The New Yorker or Popular Science?

Like channel surfing, flipping through magazines for something to catch your eye is going to become a lost art. No more chance encounters with good writing on topics you never knew interested you.

The only person I think who will benefit from this will be my father, who will finally have free space in the trunk of his car.