The velocity of change these days is breathtaking and, for an old media guy entering his seventh decade, rather frightening. My New Year’s resolution for 2010, therefore, is to do everything I can to slow down and resist change.
Each week as I carry an armload of old newspapers out to the car, then drive them to the transfer station and dump them in the recycling bin, I am forced to contemplate just how wasteful my addiction to the old ways is. What could possibly justify generating all this newsprint when you can get all the information contained in it online? Still, I enjoy padding out to the street in the dark every morning to fetch the Portland paper and I look forward to settling down with The New York Times each evening after supper. I’m a hopeless case.
I used to look forward to picking up The Forecaster at the grocery store or the corner store every Thursday, often reading it in the car before setting off home, but since it went online the sense of urgency has greatly diminished. I’ve usually already read it by the time it shows up in print. Sometimes I don’t even bother picking one up. No wonder newspapers are folding left and right.
I am also a former librarian, and the technological changes in information access are even more evident in libraries. When I was in high school in the 1960s, research required going to a library and taking notes by hand from the reference books there. By the time I became a librarian in the 1970s, photocopiers had eliminated the need to take notes manually.
Now, for most of us, there’s no need to go to the library to do research at all. Those weekend influxes of students at term paper time are a thing of the past. Kids today can find everything they need on the Internet. Public library use is reportedly up in these economic hard times, but I suspect that’s more a matter of free Internet access and DVDs than it is a resurgence in reading.
I’m addicted to books, own maybe 2,000, but I don’t read as much as I used to. That’s going to change. But when I go to my local independent bookstores these days, their decline is painfully obvious – bare shelves, books face out rather than spine out, more used books than new. I keep thinking I should take the booksellers up on the offer to special order the new book I want, but then why prolong the misery? We can order online and get our books faster and cheaper. Bookstores, too, will soon be a thing of the past.
Please God, however, I will never succumb to the temptation to acquire a Kindle. The prospect of having the entire recorded history and literature of the world downloadable and stored on your own personal digital reader is alluring unless, of course, you value the process of acquiring knowledge as much as possessing it.
No doubt there will come a time when learning becomes instantaneous, a matter of embedding information directly in our consciousness biochemically. We already have virtual retinal display, and it won’t be long before motion pictures can be projected into your brain. Skip the viewing altogether. Want to read “War & Peace?” There’ll be a pill for that. I just hope I’m not around to see it.
So as 2009 comes to a blessed close and 2010 looms on the horizon, I am resolved to drag my feet as much as possible when it comes to the new and the next. I’m going to continue to read newspapers I can hold in my hands and I am only going to read old books.
Happy Old Year!