From the book (and magazine) table: Matter

This week’s book table is instead a magazine table – focusing on a site brought to Kerri’s attention on Twitter, which led to quite The Daily Circuit science geek-out fest.

Matter is an online magazine/website/publisher hybrid that’s just launched its first article and website. The project is designed to have a science and technology focus but also promises social and cultural issue coverage. It’s run by two accomplished journalists and readers can either buy the long-form pieces individually (for 99 cents), or sign up to become a member and receive various audiobooks and extra features.

The first piece (clocking in at around 40 pages) is ‘Do No Harm’ by New Scientist correspondent Anil Ananthaswamy. Ananthaswamy spent months following a number of people with Body Integrity Identity Disorder – people who feel that part of their body is not their own, and often become obsessed with amputating one of their limbs. This community, writes Ananthaswamy, consists of people who have struggled for years with their issues, leading some of them to connect with an underground of a few willing surgeons, or others to undertake their amputations on their own. It’s not a passing thought or an occasional desire. As one of the sufferers in the article says, “All I could think about was how I could get rid of my leg.”

The medical field has for years dismissed the disorder as a kind of perversion, or linked it to sexual deviancy, but awareness, says Ananthaswamy, is growing and many researchers are beginning to believe that individuals with BIID have issues with brain development that keep them from recognizing certain parts of their bodies.

“Do No Harm’ is a really wonderful piece of journalism. Ananthaswamy truly got to know the individuals in the piece and spoke with many doctors and researchers. He covers the personal, the science and the controversy.

It’s admittedly a bizarre phenomenon and the piece could have easily strayed into voyeurism. But instead, the article made me question what we really understand and think about mental illness and personal freedom – and what we stigmatize as sick or wrong. Why shouldn’t an otherwise healthy adult who desires an amputation be able to have one? How is this kind of desire different from plastic surgery?

The way we read and find good journalism is always changing (as evidenced by the fact that Matter can’t even classify itself) and with today’s constant barrage of recycled information, it makes finding quality writing from an interesting source all the more exciting – and it’s always fun to find out that other people are craving this kind of writing as well – and in concept, at least, it looks like Matter is going to help satisfy that desire.

Despite massive cuts in weekly magazines like Newsweek, book publishers and daily papers across the country, amazing long form journalism is alive and well in this country (if you haven’t already fallen in love with longform.org, cancel the rest of your day and get reading). In fact, I find it incredibly heartening that places like Matter met Kickstarter goals in record time – people want well-research, thoughtful, in-depth coverage of issues – despite what our 24-hour news cycle might suggest. And great journalism takes time and a platform that allows authors to have space. So check them out!

I realize the danger of endorsing something based on a website and lone article, and it’s certainly too soon to tell how the site will hold up in the long term – but I haven’t been so excited about a project in awhile and I am truly looking forward to seeing what comes next month from this promising new magazine/publisher/website/blog/experiment.

Here is a video about the project from their Kickstarter page:

Maddy Mahon, assistant producer