Over at The New Yorker (via Slashdot), there’s yet another article about how newspapers are dying. I don’t doubt this is true, and that the day may come when print newspapers are no longer a part of our daily lives. My real question is, why do we care so much?
The death of print newspapers does not equate with the death of news, after all; something will take its place, whether it is shiny new digital newspapers of some sort (the kind in the movie Minority Report would be nice) or blogs or, I dunno, psychic news beamed into your head until you can hear the screams and smell the coppery blood. There will be some sort of news delivery, is my point. Yet when it comes to the Death of Print (including my beloved, cherished, fetishized books), we all get very hand-wringy and upset.
I love print. My love for books as objects is pretty well-established, and my wife and I actually get a newspaper delivered (sadly, it is the entertaining but news-dubious Daily News) and we actually read our local paper (The Hoboken Reporter) every week. Of course, we’re old and stodgy, and we also read a huge volume of Internet-delivered material, from blogs to CNN.com. While I would miss print if its death should ever actually arrive, but I don’t doubt for a moment that there’ll be something to replace it. So why get all weepy about it? I mean, I’m one of those annoying folks who has gone on record about never buying a Kindle, yet I view the death of print with something approaching apathy.
I think the worry people have about it has more to do with not wanting the world to change than with any real concern for the Future. We all get to know how the world works, and we don’t like sudden, cataclysmic change (which rarely happens anyway). When we think of the Death of Print (it would be helpful to imagine a flash of lightning and a roll of thunder – possibly with a Wilhelm Scream – every time I use that phrase) we tend to imagine it all happens in one week: bookstores bulldozed, newspapers vanished, and the wall-sized televisions that never turn off installed without our knowledge or permission, and us older folks left to the mercy of Teh Kidz who know how to work all the new tech. Change is scary, and it’s natural to imagine that a world without Newspapers would be a worse place simply because none of us have ever known such a world.
Personally, I think print is going to be replaced – at first – with print-like things. E-book Readers are made to resemble books, and I think E-newspapers will resemble newspapers. At least until the usefulness of mimicking an old technology is past, if it ever is. After all, Word Processors still look very much like a piece of virtual paper in a typewriter, for no reason whatsoever. (I still own and sometimes use an ancient manual typewriter, as well – I am a Secret Luddite, ain’t I?) Change is seldom sudden and jarring, for the simple reason that sudden and jarring doesn’t sell well, and the main goal of all these products is to get you to part with your pesos. No one is going to want to scare you away by insisting you have a small device surgically implanted into your brain so you can view the new HoloNews Needlecasts, after all.
And really, if we enter into a Brave New World where you get your iNews on your iPhone via Steve Jobsian avatar speaking with a Max Headroomish stutter, will it be so bad? Trust me, thugs will still be robbing bodegas in The Bronx and terrorists will still be lobbing bombs into trains in Mumbai, and someone will still be writing about it all.
That’s the key: The writing. That’s why when authors (even dimwits like me) write up dystopian futures, we always remove literacy and make everything be televised somehow.