Read Along the Aisle is Nothing More Than an Overflow of Red and Blue Gradients


Our media landscape is becoming more polarized as the political landscape becomes more polarized. The majority of Americans in each political party express very unfavorable views of members of the opposing party. People with different political affiliations often have the tendency to stick to certain new sites, conservatives overwhelmingly watch Fox News for political news, while liberals prefer to listen to NPR or watch MSNBC. As our views become vastly different, and the allegiance to our side grows stronger, we are only left to watch as we tear each other apart for our different views.

A new iPhone app, manufactured by Nick Lum, a “recovering lawyer,” is making it simpler to get out of your media bubble and uncover different opinions in the news, in an effort to assist people across the political spectrum understand each other, and perhaps find common ground. Read Across the Aisle, created back in 2017, promises to shake up your media habits by proposing alternative sources. From the liberal Huffington Post to the conservative Fox News to more moderate sites like the Christian Science Monitor, the app, which started off on Kickstarter, tracks what you’re reading from 20 chosen news sources across the political spectrum. It will assess where your reading sources fall on the ideological spectrum on average, based on your frequent reading habits, and recommend additional reading that may help you balance out your media diet. The app’s assessments of where a given news source sits on the political polarization and media consumption spectrum are based on the 2014 Pew study on political polarization and media consumption. Fox News, for example, is highly trusted by conservatives but not by liberals, hence it is placed in the conservative column. Read Across the Aisle also polled its Kickstarter funders and users to choose where the various news sources should be placed on the spectrum.

The app icon itself is an open book with a red-to-blue gradient in the backdrop, which wasn’t the most appealing to me. After downloading the free app, the user is told to add to their reading list. It is never requested to create an account, and there are no notifications accessible. The app’s main page features the app’s title at the top, followed by “Add Site” and “Suggest New Site.” A small box shaded from red to blue in the top right hand corner is used to show where you stand on the political spectrum. Red to blue representing conservatives, and blue to red representing liberals. After clicking on Add Site, the user is presented with a whopping 20 new sites to choose from. All sites are given a shade of either red or blue to show which political party they typically cater to. After clicking on a site you wish to read, a bar shaded from red to blue appears on the bottom of your screen, the app then informs you if you read more conservative posts, the bar will move farther towards the red, and if you read more liberal posts, the bar moves farther towards the blue. Posts of a different political standing are worth twice as much as that of your own political standing, as a reward for “Reading Across the Aisle.”

The app claims to shade more conservative or liberal statements a certain color, but after reviewing this, that is false. The app does color the text of news articles, however it does it at random, and the coloring has no purpose other than to disrupt the flow of your reading. The app, though it has a relatively simple layout, never tells you how to use it. You are left to wander through the buttons all on your own and figure it out. To get the most out of the app, you must read all of your news through it rather than using, for example, The New York Times’ own app. Plus, with only 20 sources to choose from, your options aren’t as wide as they could be. Reason magazine and The New Yorker are available, but Breitbart News and Jacobin are not. The most I can give to the creators is that the users are allowed to change their color spectrum. After spending roughly 10 minutes wandering aimlessly through the app, I found the option to change colors. If you thought reading bright red and blue text was already annoying, just you wait, the other option is neon pink to orange!

Few countries are as divided as the United States. Democrats and Republicans used to differ on policy issues; it’s the healthy tension that keeps democracy moving forward. Both sides now fear that if they get power, the other will ruin the country. Partisanship is mistaken for patriotism, and the ultimate purpose is to destroy the opposing side. Democracies disintegrate in this way. Though Read Across the Aisle’s main purpose is to stop political polarization, it’s nothing more than a more colorful way to read your news on a limited number of news sites, if you count the repetitive red and blue to be colorful. The app is currently only accessible for iOS, though a desktop browser extension is in the works, but I’ll save you time and storage and tell you it is not worth the hassle.