The Rip Van Winkle Episode

For three and a half weeks, I’ve made due with a fickle internet connection and a decrepit laptop.

Consequently, while the TVA was off managing a major environmental disaster  in TVA-style (meaning they studied the disaster site(s), readily admitted that wiping out entire communities with toxic pond goo and poisoning the state’s drinking/fishing holes were minor incidents without serious  injurymoderate oopsies  with potential short-term impact significant events, but they’re committed to clean-up and remediation.) I was feeling out-of-the-loop and uneasy… almost panicky.

Oh relax. I’m not launching into my “Citizens Must Monitor The Evil Monolith that is The TVA” diatribe here.  I did that back when the agency was kicking around the idea of making Hawkins County the location of their fly ash disposal site.  Ya’ll just gave me those same sidelong glances you give the tetched lady, who wears Sponge Bob slippers to the market and occasionally converses with the loaves of bread about an alien/food preservative conspiracy.  Apparently, ya’ll are of the opinion that if I were a real mountain woman and not one of those pansy-assed tree-hugging Algore Libtards, I would be able to drink contaminated water, huff airborne pollution, and have at least one cousin with 11 toes, a third eyelid, and an exciting career in the carnival industry.

Fine.  Whatever.  The truth is I haven’t followed the story closely enough to rant about it anyway, which brings us to the true cause of my anxiety: my “news addiction” and recent lack of connectivity.

When the laptop betrayed me, which was around the time of the ash spill, I didn’t rush out and buy a new one – not right away.  I’d hoped the old one could be repaired.  Also,  I have “The Waiting Rule” which mandates that any purchase over $300 should be “slept on”  (add 24 hours for each additional $100 of purchase price.)  This rule has helped me avoid countless binge buys, because more often than not it only takes a good night’s sleep to realize that no, I don’t really need D-sized boobs and handmade fur boots.

So…. I decided television and print could take the place of the internet temporarily, and for the first time in years, I found myself rushing out to buy newspapers.  Go ahead.  Laugh a little.

I quickly discovered that  newspapers aren’t as widely available as they once were.   A decade ago, you could find a decent variety on any street corner.  Those boxes have long since been replaced by racks of trader rags and real estate pamphlets – so finding a paper printed outside this immediate area took effort.

When I finally did  find the newspapers I wanted,  I was unsatisfied with them – irrationally, insanely unsatisfied – because  that’s was all there was.  Just a newspaper.   If I wanted more information about a person, place, substance, plan or law – I couldn’t open a new tab and rush off  to Google  or one of  those many, wonderful dust-free online archives, which newspapers  make available to e-subscribers – you know the ones, where you can search by keyword, byline or date, eliminating the need to spend hours in a morgue with chronological microfilm reels or bound copies of yellowed newsprint.  (Yes, it’s true.   I am so in love with modern methods for information storage and retrieval, that phrases like: “Search online archives.  They go back to 1953”  cause me to feel all warm and tingly inside.)

Anyway, after walking to the desk and staring at the sad, empty space countless times (habit) and turning the newspaper over and over to see if a search engine would magically appear on the back page (insanity):  I realized there’s a huge difference between reading a newspaper because you have a sentimental attraction to newsprint and relying upon one as a primary source of information.

Suddenly, newspapers were the 2-pound 1980’s Dynatac phone:  odd, uncomfortable, bulky, and limited.

In fact, it’s hard to believe that throughout the 90’s, I subscribed to  8-10 print newspapers and 4-5 magazines.  And I relied upon them as my primary source of news.  I’ve long since let those subscriptions lapse in favor of online content or e-editions.   The benefit of this conversion being less clutter, therefore a reduced risk of  losing a child in a paper avalanche.  (Seriously,  I had nightmares wherein towering stacks of newspapers toppled and I was forced to call Persia Fire Department to come and extract my kids from the Knox News/Wall Street Journal rubble.)

At this point,  I couldn’t estimate  the number of publications I read online.   The number of print newspapers I receive, however, is precisely one.  (The hometown paper is necessary for finding out about high school sports, catfish dinners,  turkey shoots, and all of those community-based things larger publications aren’t keen on covering.)

Without the net to access state and national news or blogs, despite my best efforts to stay informed: I couldn’t.   I missed things, conversations, discussions, facts, and firsthand accounts.  It was almost as if my technical difficulties had lulled me into a long nap.  I’d wake up and discover the story had changed.  New information was available.  The discussion had veered in a new direction.  Things were just different, and there was simply a whole other layer of “the news”, to which I did not have access. (For example, read here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.  You may also want to follow this, watch this and check this out too.)

Only then did I realize how much the nets have changed, not just the traveling speed of news, but the ACTUAL news.

You know, fifteen years ago, the  TVA would’ve tap danced for a handful of inkslinging journalist, whose job was to c0nvey information between them and the general public.   This isn’t the case anymore.  Since the inclusion of citizen journalists (or at least a begrudging acknowledgment of their efforts) any person with the time to ask the question and the means to report the answer can offer  “news.”  This not only adds a new layer of realism: but with more people watching, asking questions, fact-checking, collaborating, and holding answer-givers accountable: it forces a level of transparency that did not exist before.

Of course, I admit this change is not without it’s problems, many of which make our news vulnerable to misinformation, contradiction and therefore confusion.  Absolutely, the dividing line between reporting and editorializing has been blurred, and the distinction is often left to the reader.  (Then again, throughout the history of journalism, this has been the case more often than we’d like to admit.)

Still,  the ordeal of living net-less for almost a month has given me a whole new perspective.  I think, much like the caveman never mused upon his place in evolution because he was too busy going through process of change to recognize the change itself: I hadn’t realized how irreversible and complete this transition from old media to new media was.  There’s truly no going back.

The middle man is dead and ink has limits.

This means for those of us, who were nostalgic about print, and those, who were still hoping we’d throw the baby out with the bathwater,  we need to wake up and accept the truth.  The truth is… oh c’mon, don’t make me say it.  Please.  I’d feel like such a traitor.  No, I can’t.  Saying the words aloud would make me grieve.  I’d have to wear a black veil and rip my clothes as a sign of mourning… wait, my current field of employment is the print media industry, so given my lack of job security, I should probably rip somebody else’s clothes and save my own…

Okay fine, if you’re determined hear it:  Print, as we know it, is dead.

Dead.  Yes, dead.   I said it.  It’s true.

(Cue Taps.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go mourn  and ponder the many questions I have,  such as:  if the role of the middle man is no longer necessary, what is my new role?  Do I have a role?  And what is the definition of ” new media”?  Are there standards one must meet to qualify as new media?  How will we make the distinction between citizen journalists and smartass news junkies with a blog?  Could we make a checklist or something?  What if I don’t want to be “new media?” Could somebody pay me to be a smartass news junkie with a blog?  Is that a skill?  Should I put it on my résumé?  What other marketable skills do I have?  If newspapers do drop their print product and transition to the web: can we still call them “newspapers?”  If print does die, doesn’t it seem wrong that there will be no newspaper to print that headline?

Is it too late for me to become a stripper?  Yeah, I thought so too.

Sigh.

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3 thoughts on “The Rip Van Winkle Episode

  1. Just wanted to leave a note that I am happy you are back and blogging again. My entertainment had definitely suffered in your absence. And a big thank you for furnishing my new favorite pet-name for my wife…”pansy-assed tree-hugging Algore Libtard”.

  2. Loved this entry, which I arrived at from Steve Yelvington’s Twitter stream. Reminds me of the days in 2003 when a whole buncha new whippersnappers showed up in the blogosphere saying as how it wasn’t blogging if it wasn’t short.

    Why I oughta…nah.

    I like a nice, meaty, Russian-novel-size blog posts. Give me asides, gripery, footnotes! Oh, and a really good topic.

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