(Cross posted from the Huffington Post)
In our hyper-connected world, people have grown accustomed to getting answers immediately. My generation has grown up with the mindset that if you have a question, just ask Google. We tend to take the wealth of information online for granted. At least, I used to.
I pride myself on being rather tech-savvy, having co-founded a nonprofit solely through the combination of email, Skype, Google hangouts and Twitter. I get all my news in my Feedly reader (and when I say all I mean if I don’t check it until lunch — I have over 100 headlines to digest) and am a devoted iPhone note-taker. All of this to say that when people complained that print newspapers were dying, I wasn’t the least surprised. After all, news on the go was more convenient, especially if it fit in your pocket. Why would anyone want a bulky weekly review that was probably outdated by the time it reached your doorstep?
One trip to the offices of the most widely read daily French paper, Ouest France, was enough to make me rethink my position. Taking notes on the new French Prime Minister Manuel Valls’s first speech alongside a team of journalists, I told myself that if there was something I didn’t catch, I could always find the transcript online later. The irony was, I was surrounded by some of the very people who would be responsible for putting that article out there. I’d gotten so used to having information at my fingertips that I’d stopped thinking about how it got there. And here I was, witnessing news being made; not in the conventional sense of witnessing a historical event but in that I was literally seeing the flesh and bones “news” being pieced together. It was impressive, to say the least, hearing reputed professionals asking each other whether this adjective needed to be accorded, or if a certain piece was ready to run in the evening edition or simply planning stories and constructing sections for tomorrow’s paper.
Surrounded by all this newspaper magic made me feel like I was back in a time where print was the only way people got their news, and frankly, it was nice. So when one of the journalists asked me if I would subscribe to a weekly paper were I an adult, my response startled even myself: I said yes. Talking about how simply consuming headlines deprived me of the gripping prose of some of the big-name papers and how I liked the feel of real paper reminded me of how reading on a screen doesn’t feel like I’m truly reading and internalizing the content. In that way, I guess I like an honest to goodness paper for some of the same reasons I could never give up real books. As much as I love my Kindle and online PDFs for increased consumption, I often feel like I’m not properly savoring the book.
And as these words were coming out of my mouth, I realized, technology has disconnected us almost as much as it has brought us closer together. Now, as I’m studying abroad, physically estranged from practically everyone I know, I’m no stranger to what technology can do. I’m reminded how amazing it is when I see my family every week on Skype, participate in a conference taking place miles away thanks to Twitter, bounce article ideas off of the community of HuffPost Teen writers that has sprung up on GroupMe or help my friends back home choose a prom dress via Facebook. But although the worldwide web has succeeded in shrinking the world, so to speak, it has also created a culture of individuals stuck in their own electronic universes. Many of my peers are even scared of using their phones to actually call someone, preferring to hide behind their screens in what passes as communication. The constant stream of information has captivated our attention to the point that we are slaves to or devices, checking them constantly, becoming more and more incapable of carrying on a real conversation, so engrossed are we in what’s going on elsewhere.
The demise of print publications has been touted again and again as the beginning of the technological revolution, and as a harbinger of an even more connected word that awaits us in the not-so-distant future. But the world it is a-changing and I’m a big believer that we need to change with it. Desperately clinging to a slim hope that paper will have a massive comeback is, in my opinion, a tad delusional. As history has shown us, old technology will always be followed by newer innovations, but it’s up to the medium to stay alive. When TV came along, everyone thought that was the end of radio, but they adapted and emerged diminished yet not eliminated. So it must be with print publications: though the focus may continue to shift online, news corporations and the newspapers through which they spread the word are still relevant; they simply need to find a way to stay profitable in tandem with their online counterparts. Perhaps, like the New York Times does, a limited amount of content available to free users or a premium of information unlocked by a paid subscription. Whatever the answer, I believe at least a small part of our world still needs the comfortable familiarity and reliable trustworthiness that print publications provide.