Sunday, March 1, 2009

First the Newspapers

…and now books and the grand TV networks!
by Charlie Leck

Who ruled that newspapers and printed books are inevitable and enduring?

A couple of weeks ago I canceled my subscription to the local, daily newspaper – the StarTribune. I am going through a withdrawal period, but I am going to stick with it. The rag had gotten too simplistic – moving toward the quality of USA Today. Stories weren’t in depth anymore. Editing is very sloppy. The paper’s best columnists had been let-go because the publishing corporation couldn’t afford their salaries. The grand-old sports columnist for the paper, Sid Hartman, has lost his edge and his thoughts are tedious and predictable. The other sports columnist, Patrick Ruesse, is just too cranky and sarcastic. Where art thou, Red Smith?

Unable to stand the thought of no ink stains on my finger tips, I put in an order for the Sunday NY Times. My wife gets the weekend Christian Science Monitor. So, we’ll keep the feel of newsprint around the house anyway.

The Internet now supplies my news – and in such an extraordinary manner. I read the NY Times every day and keep up to date with various alternative news sources at well – AlterNet, Salon, Slate and MinnPost. I’ve also discovered how to tap into Garrison Keillor’s weekly newspaper column.

Could I also give up printed books?
It doesn’t seem possible! Hundreds and hundreds of printed book surround me here in this loft. They are like living friends to me. Thousands and thousands of hours are invested in them.

Now, Fred, a friend in Denver is excited about the Kindle2, Amazon’s new electronic reading device.

“…the kindle 2 just went on the market (2/24) and I hadn't realized the technology of these things....the quality of the display, which he calls electronic paper display, and says is every bit as pleasant as reading a hard bound book....

“and the wirelessness of it....completely wireless , no monthly charges like a cell delivers any of its books in 60 seconds.....presently 15,000 books ( I think) and 111 of the 114 NY Times best sellers.... best sellers are 9.99 and older books 3 to 6 dollars and the thing sells for $350... [$359]

“Charlie, why don't you have one? Have you looked at them? Have you talked to anyone who has one?

“Come on, Charlie...this has ‘Leck’ written all over it, at least as a blog....come on; i want to know what you know...and don't just tell me you want the experience of a real book...users are saying they said that too, and this is better....lighter, cheaper, less strain and heavy readers are reading more than before....listen to the interview, or, if you already know all the answers, put a blog together and tell us.... come on Charlie! f "
Sony has a competing product called the eBook Reader. The initial cost is less expensive, but it appears Amazon has a better tap on books and, perhaps, better prices, too.

They’re inevitable, I suppose. I try to imagine not holding a book in my hands – not turning pages – not putting it on a shelf when I am finished – not taking it down again when I want to find a particular quotation. I can’t imagine not having a printed version of The Things They Carried on my shelves – or not having Team of Rivals sitting up there, waiting to be pulled down.

Though I am a serious reader, Fred goes through far more books than I; but he listens to them while he walks the dogs, cooks dinner, sits in the doctor’s waiting room and prepares to go to sleep at night. My wife does that, too. The little iPod bud is always stuck in her ear and she goes through four or five times the number of books I do. It embarrasses me and I envy her, but I can’t give up holding a book in my hands and rereading sentences I like, and paging, paging, paging through them. Then, I argue, most of the books Fred and my wife listen to are abridged and I can't abide abridged books. They're simply not fair to the author. The reader (listener) is cheated!

Oh, how things change but remain the same!

How I remember my parents bemoaning the demise of the grand, old radio shows! In our livingroom, we would sit around the radio in a semi-circle and our heads would be tilted forward to catch every word of the Jack Benny Show, or to join in the thrilling moments of the Green Hornet, and to listen to the William Tell Overture introduce the Lone Ranger. Our first television – a small black and white screen that produced fuzzy, ghostly images – came into the house in about 1950 and destroyed those family moments.

Now I watch my children Facebooking and text messaging and using their Wii machines and I must feel, inside, what my parents felt when that first TV was set up in the livingroom.

Now the grand, old TV broadcast networks that I knew as a kid – CBS, NBC and ABC – are all threatened by the incredible rise of cable and satellite TV. And soon, it will be TV on demand. There will be no reason to rush home from play practice, following school, so Dobbie Gillis won’t be missed. Just dial up what show you want to watch at any time and forget about schedules and channels.

The NY Times carried a story yesterday about the struggle of network television to remain viable – even as CBS boasts historically remarkable success in viewer ratings. The profits aren’t there. The entertainment competition is too immense.

The world as I knew it is sliding away and I sound like my father when I bemoan it. In truth, I celebrate it and envy those who are young and will witness, if we can keep the world whole, an electronic revolution beyond my current imaginings.

What about the U.S. Mail? It is doomed. There will be no magazines, books, bills, or catalogs to deliver. They will all be electronic! So will all our letters and greeting cards. A few of my children already send me electronic jingles and merry makers on Valentine’s Day and Father’s Day.

Everything will change – everything from travel to sitting in a classroom – from listening to music to dining out – from Facebooking with friends in China to voting from your easy chair (and easy chairs will be far different from the old, cushy thing I sit in now to read my books today).

Oh, how I envy my grandchildren and the opportunity they’ll have to witness all these developments. How they’ll laugh, someday, at all these high-tech devises and the cables that clutter my desk this morning.

“Can you believe that Grandpa used one of these things? Tee-hee! Look at all the wires! Whatever shall we do with all these worthless things? And all these books that are now digitally archived in the great library in the sky – what shall we do with them?”
I try, occasionally, to tell them about life without jets and television – when movies had no color and about film at the movie theater that often broke – that my telephone number was Chester-61, and you didn’t dial it but told a nice lady on the phone who’d often say something like: “Oh, that’s the Lecks’ number and they are gone to the city for the weekend!” – that there were no McDonalds, Burger King or China Express – and that I took baths in a big, galvanized pan that was set on the kitchen floor and filled by my mother with water heated in pans on the coal stove; but they can’t grasp any of it.

The changes come now at a blazing speed. Soon – who knows? – travel to the stars will be possible and I may see you again!

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