The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman
The Dial Press, April 6, 2010
Mornings without a predawn thwack at the front door draw achingly near. I, for one, grow dismayed when others say that we will be better off, once the stir comes to an end. As customers cancel subscriptions and shift to the Internet to consume current events, newspaper print editions struggle to justify the daily toss toward addresses throughout our communities.
“Dead tree” and electronic formats are not interchangeable. The sound of a newspaper landing on the front stoop, woefully absent in digital distribution, signifies more than the arrival of information gathered below the headlines. Delivery of bundled reportage functions as an alarm, setting each day into motion. Insight and analysis arrive with impact, requiring careful consideration.
The corrections editor, Herman Cohen, nixed all talk of a website. “The Internet is to news,” he said, “what car horns are to music.”
The digital revolution specializes in immediacy, but a plethora of nearly instant competing reporting entities also results in the loss of methodical verification for breaking stories, as supported by the frequency of deleted and corrected posts. Moreover, less obvious repercussions in the changing profession raise my concern. Take Silly Putty, for instance.
As a child, I passed hours of playtime flattening coral colored gum-like wads over news ink. Imprints of the Sunday comics, bylines of journalists, and classified ads wondrously replicated themselves on the surface of the toy putty, stretching in my hands and into lasting memory. I pity the youngster in the future, who is left to press the rubbery mass against a computer screen displaying the Chicago Tribune because no traditional paper exists (if the organization itself can even sustain operation) only to find the photographic pancake blank.
How will the same child relate to film images of a person running through the rain with unfolded pages tented overhead, protecting from an unexpected downpour?
At newspapers, what was of the utmost importance yesterday is immaterial today.
As electronic devices replace antiquated fixtures in our lives, pre-awakened hunts for the sectioned sheets that missed the front stoop and fell hidden in a nearby flowerbed will regretfully slip into a field of lost pleasures. Awkward but forgiving pajama greetings between neighbors fetching their papers in tandem shall cease, further isolating us in our homes. Boxes packed with fragile items wrapped in the day’s record are destined to become obsolete, the finality of time capsule treasures stored in attics.
As if these drawbacks were not enough, the windows that benefit from streak-free shines looking out onto our lawns will lose a reliable ally. Puppies ready for potty training will have to learn on another absorbent household material, while the semi-neutralized odor of doggie waste and a reporter’s scoop never combine again.
He adored the job overall but disliked lining the monkey cages with newspaper—even the sight of headlines made him panicky these days. However, this was not to bother him for long: the local paper folded, and he switched to sawdust. Soon, even the monkeys forgot the comforts of newspaper.
I am frustrated by a disregard toward simple pleasures. Subtle cultural loses seem to outnumber the gains in technological substitutions. I pine for a knock at the door in the wee hours to seize the day’s top stories and welcome a trusted source into my home. Updated and stimulated after reading the newspaper, I stack the pages to my right. Then, I contemplate how I can the repurpose them, put them to additional use, while my laptop rests off on a table somewhere, slow to wake, lagging behind my ambitions, locked in sleep mode.