The Biz: A Paean to Print

The Biz: A Paean to PrintEvery week, my wife complains about a few unread magazines lying around the house. After enduring her complaints for a while, I am forced to read the magazines or throw them out unread. She regularly suggests I kill my subscriptions because I can always get the news I want on the Internet, anyway (I'm an inveterate online newspaper reader).

The magazines found in my house are things like Time, The New Yorker, Departures and, for a while, The New York Review of Books (I did finally have to let that one go). It was the Time subscription that really got me thinking. Who needs a weekly, really? What can I possibly get out of it that I can't get anywhere else?

I realized that what I like about Time, or any print vehicle for that matter - be it magazine or newspaper or broadsheet or pamphlet - is that I am exposed to tidbits of information and long-form thought pieces that I don't necessarily want to fetch. I am presented with an organized collection of opinions, perspectives, information and facts that are the construct of someone else's mind, or a collection of minds. I am offered the chance to "discover" news and information about everything from events to products, something that foraging for information on my own does not afford me.

Certainly, there are times when, while clicking through a maelstrom of Web pages on the hunt for something specific, one comes across a feature, an article, an image or a thought that is unexpected, a welcome surprise. But that is rare. And in every instance, it only happens when I am already on the hunt for something predetermined. Though we call online activity "surfing," the truth of the matter is that it is more like fluid stalking. You don't turn on the computer, hop on the Web and then just see where the wind takes you. You enter the Internet's environment with focused intent. When opening a magazine or a newspaper, one's intent is the act of reading, not a hunt for specific news or information (forget for a moment the lust for a favorite op-ed columnist or a review for an anticipated film).

Entering into the environment of a print vehicle immerses one in someone else's order of information and opinion and exposes you to things that you might not ever be exposed to. Some of those things might not be to your liking. But your world will be bigger as a result. And maybe something will not only be to your liking but also inspire a passion. I don't read The New Yorker because I'm looking only for my kind of news; I was not seeking to know more about the Antikythera mechanism when I opened up the May 14, 2007 issue. I didn't even know what it was. But now I'm fascinated, even all this time later. When I open The New Yorker, I'm looking to learn about something I don't know and can't begin to guess at.

Opening to the inside pages of The New York Times takes me to articles about things like politics in Africa, cultural trends in South America, or the news that taco trucks in Southern California will be allowed to continue to conduct business as usual. In Time, I may come across a review - anemic though it may be, relative to other sources - for a book, an album or a TV show I don't know about, which instigates further exploration on my part.

And finally, paper makes something "real" in a way that digital-only does not. The reporting of an event, the documentation of someone's history or the recording of data, when printed, is fixed. A person's biographical details, the facts of a legal proceeding or the documentation of an historical event can be posted to and then erased from Wikipedia in a matter of moments. Print somehow makes what's in it more substantive, tangible and real.

Part of living successfully in a democracy is being exposed to the people and things that share your world even if they don't share your views. Reading through a magazine is like riding the subway: You eventually get where you wanted to go, but you get there by going through where you aren't headed while sitting next to people you don't know. You see, hear and smell things that you may not have chosen if left to your own devices, but you still end up where you wanted to be. Only now, you have at least passing familiarity with people and things you didn't before.
1 comment about "The Biz: A Paean to Print".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Uwe Hook from BatesHook, January 27, 2009 at 1 p.m.

    I still get two daily papers and more magazines because I'm addicted to the discovery process, finding out about things I'm normally not interested in. The digital discovery process is much more narrow and customized. I think we need both to understand the world.

Next story loading loading..