Kicking the Print Habit

It’s five a.m., too early for the newspaper to be here. I used to wait for it anxiously every morning, unable to eat breakfast until it arrived. That was my ritual, to check out the editorials, scan the metro page for local news, and read the weather report before leaving for school.

Six-thirty is the promised delivery deadline; since I leave at six-fifteen, it doesn’t always arrive in time. For me, a creature of habit, this is annoying. It stands to reason that somebody must receive the paper before six-thirty; why can’t it be me? Looking out my door, I see no lights on besides my own. Those sleeping houses probably already have a newspaper on their porches, while I am still waiting.

Growing up in the metro-New York area, I learned to love newspapers. We subscribed to the local paper, the Times, and the Wall Street Journal. There was always news to read in our house.

Turning on the television in the morning to watch the news is not the same. It’s jarring to hear voices at that time of day. I enjoy my newspaper in silence.

Over the past year, we’ve had various delivery people, arriving later and later. I used to call and complain, but there wasn’t much the newspaper could do about it; it’s hard to find people who want to get up that early and drive around, tossing papers at porches.

I’ve been forced to change my ways.

Now I bring my laptop downstairs in the morning, and before the paper even arrives, I’ve read all the top local and world stories on Google News. It isn’t the same, but I’ve adapted. I get my news, and there’s nothing to recycle.

What surprises me is not how easily I’ve gotten used to reading on my laptop, but how little I miss the newspaper. Some days I don’t even open the paper. I think the days of my subscription are almost over.

Newspapers all over are going through this transition. People older than me will never get used to reading a computer screen; people younger than me do almost all their reading that way. Cultural shift is happening; the last generation of printed papers is passing away.

The same thing is happening with books. I will never get rid of most of the books I own, but I’ve begun to read on my iPhone as well, and like it more than I thought I would. Even my mother has talked about getting a Kindle, which can enlarge the print to suit her vision.

A book used to be something I checked out of the library. I couldn’t own every book that I loved, so I checked them out over and over. I watched my favorite television show once, when it was broadcast, and maybe once again, if it was re-run. The sections of the Sunday paper were jealously fought over. Music came on vinyl disks or fragile tapes. Copying any of these things was impractical.

Now all of these ‘things’ don’t even exist in the physical universe – they are digital ghosts, experiences that can be replayed at will, unlimited by the size of my shelves. We don’t have to choose; we can have them all, right now. I can type something, hit a key and ‘publish’ it instantly.

I love this, but I wonder if it doesn’t cheapen some things. A book lovingly penned on legal pads, carefully typed and sent off to publishers, printed, bound, held in my hands – this is a thing that can be smelled, felt, carried. An electronic book will never be loved like that.

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