Oily Fingers and the Demise of an Intellectual Paradigm
Word that the San Francisco Chronicle may close down if it can't find a buyer or lower its expenses considerably hit me like a ton of bricks. The news is emblematic of the general trend for daily newspapers in the face of increased competition from on-line information sources and the failing economy.
Still, being an avid consumer of media, the notion of the daily paper, pulp and all, going away strikes me as having considerable consequences for how we imbibers of information and news do our consuming.
The first consequence is textural. This may seem inconsequential, but for all my life there has been a deep connection between the feel of thin, inky, oily paper in my hands and learning about the world around me. The textural nature of the newsprint has been a contextual element of reading text that described the world. I've not developed any similar connection that is obvious to me when I read about the world from a computer screen or hand held devise. Does this matter?
The second consequence of the demise of the newspaper involves the way I (we?) consume news. When you hold open a newspaper and focus on an article about a flood in the Midwest that is positioned in the upper left part of page 2, your eyes can't escape the headlines that surround this story. So even as you read the story of the flood, your mind takes in vague hints of how that event is placed in context with the rest of the news. Below it is a story on a scandal in a metropolitan police department. The eye also notes on page three a long story on the the rise of a former city counsel member in a southern city to the status of Mayor. And below that there is a small story, relative to the flood story and the new mayor story, on a tourist who fended off an attack by muggers at a famous zoo.
When reading from a paper, the eye and mind multi-tasks even as you focus on the Flood story. It sees other stories. It evaluates the importance of those stories merely by the number of column inches they take up. It sees the size of the headline relative to the size of the headline over the story of the flood.
The mind isn't allowed to work this way when the same stories are presented on a computer screen. And this difference has consequences for how individuals and communities understand the world around them.
The demise of the daily newspaper and the way it lays out the world and the way it FEEL in your hands as you soak up the news of the world has been a significant and important and paradigmatic element in how we learn about our world…And it's going way
I'm thinking of the Wednesday Food & Wine section in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Holding the inky, smooth paper in my hand my eye goes to the reviews of Syrahs, but at the same time I note the story on a winemaker that sits next to another story on Paella. Doesn't this unconsciously form a manner of thought and ideas in my mind? And what of the advertisement at the bottom of this page for a Chocolate and Wine Tasting Even at the winery. I'm reading the reviews of Syrah…but my mind is associating these reviews with the rest of the features and ads on the page.
This intellectual and communicative dynamic is going away.