Virtual Waste of Time?

When the newspaper arrived in the mail, I thought, What do we have here? What’s this oddly familiar bundle of pulp in my hands? It brought back memories when these things were everywhere. You couldn’t walk outside past your door, without having the world on your steps every morning (or at least on Sunday).

When my old pal and publisher of THE CONTRIBUTOR–Dan Abernathy, asked me to actually contribute to his newest pet project, I was perplexed. But why I thought … how post-middle ages of you Dan. It costs nothing to upload to the WEB, all we might have to share. And you don’t have to live with it. I know the internet is supposedly forever, but as far as I know, you can still go into WordPress and fix some ignorant spelling error long after the blog is published.

“There’s no undo key after this thing hits the curb,” I said. I could tell Dan wasn’t having no for an answer, so I finally relented, not knowing what I would write about.

The problem I was having, was trying to remember the last time I’d held something beside’s a cafe menu in my hand, with printed words on it. Hell, even half the stuff I order from diners these days, comes from a blinking touch screen or phone app. Seems in just the last decade, since these really smart phones and devices have made it into my hands, I’ve completely given myself over to the virtual experience.

I’ve become so cordless, that I’ve pulled the veritable analog plug completely–ouch–as I recall the loss of my vinyl records, books, and cassette recordings, all tossed a decade ago.

My Kindle pages flip side to side with the simple strike of my stylus. Paper receipts are replaced with paperless alerts and are saved on a server with no need for anything flavored manila to sort them in. Notes to dear ones, my spouse, and those I see in person every day, still get thumb-hammered out onto two-dimensional buttons. Alas, I guess that says it all. I becoming more of a 2D version of myself.

But knowing Dan as long as I have, it made sense once I gave it some thought, that he’d want to publish in hardcopy again–seeing as how we first met more than 20-years ago in (you guessed it) the newspaper business.1022004-2270

Back in the days when we journalists who wrote long-hand on large tablets, scrawled quotes in little note books, and wrote with black ink, the important numbers and dates onto the backs of our hands. We souped film, laid out stories with photos and text on primitive Mac towers, which once published and loaded by the bundle into trucks, was within hours sprawled upon the sticky, worn counters, of coffee shops, corner markets, hotels, and gas stations throughout the land. The photos were always fuzzy, the words always tenuous until proofed nineteen times prior, but once all else was said, done, and done once more, it was always a thrill to see up close and read (under the proper light) what an entire team has put together over the past month, week, day. 

Dan still scribbles in hardcover journals until filled, ultimately filing them side by side onto the decades worth of shelving next to his desk. He still buys stamps, licks them, and rubs their little hides onto the envelopes of cards and pages he’s hand-scribed his heart-felt sentiments on. They too, like his journals, house his original thoughts, typos and all the crinkled edges that surely his mind, and his tabloid will contain.

Like the sheen of a new tattoo on old skin, newspapers are always fascinating at first glance. They intend to attract the eye with an intentional hierarchy. Headline, photo, caption. Make it splash when it hits the street. Even though the printed word has been around for more than five and a half centuries, in some form or another, I feel compelled to advocate for its continued relevance, even now as I upload this to the internet.

Why newsprint? Because it smells like clean dirt. Organic. It’s crude, and combustible. It’ll fuel a fire with the help of a swift match. It’ll swat a fly, catch a crumb, scold a cat and help soften the bed-roll for a person living on the street.

The digital device on the other hand, has the inert fragrance of a scalpel. The emotional warmth of a key fob. It’s polished and usually too cold to warm your hands with–unless you pair it with a faulty charger and wait for the sparks. A Kindle Fire or real kindling? Which will serve you better after an EMP knocks out the GRID I ask you?

All it takes is a half-spilled cup of coffee to kill the average laptop. But dump a pot of hot Joe on your favorite newspaper, and after some drying time, there’s a fair chance that the same inherent content will be there–albeit with maybe a wink of ancient patina added.

You may only read or skim over the pages once before tossing them out. But at some point, you’ll find occasion to cut out a square of some pale yellow page before tossing the rest. Maybe returning to that sacrade swatch every time your Bible of choice is opened, or the visor is lowered in your auto. The image of an otherwise lost thought, a moment in time that THE PAPER found worthy enough to print, pasted there before you, recanting your child’s moment in the lights; that special ceremony; the group happening; or maybe that time when that someone special passed; wrote that quote; made that moment worth printing. Clippings endued with sentiment, gummed by sweaty hands or tinted by spilled tears, simply become more tangible than any virtual posting I can imagine.

So wrap a fish. Underline your parrot’s perch. Rest your wary coffee mug a page in Dan’s new publication THE CONTRIBUTOR, and watch while a new ring appears around any random paragraph you happen upon. Here’s to Gutenberg (Google him) and the printed word. Print on people, and beyond that, keep on reading.