We live in crazy times, right? Everything is changing, and so fast! The Internet! iTunes!! The Kindle!!! We are living in the digital age, the world is flat, welcome to the post-American age, and so forth. Lots of hip buzzwords, competing, hipper buzzwords, mass confusion, and critical disagreement on what just about everything means in this new world.
I confess to feeling stressed out over all this sturm und drang every so often, especially as it relates to the things I love. I read about the end of books, the end of newspapers, the end of the album and a slow rhythm of panic creeps into my heartbeat. I love those things! Don’t take them away from me, flat world! I don’t want eBooks – I like organizing my books onto real bookshelves in my home!
Yet, of late, I have found myself increasingly comfortable with our changing media -- the record industry, newspaper industry, book industry, TV industry, etc. It's natural. Just because in our brief lifetimes we’ve gotten used to having ad-supported 30-minute situation comedies on TV all the time, and storefronts full of CDs in plastic cases, and inky newspapers plopping down on our lawns every morning, that doesn't mean it has to stay that way forever. This is a growing, changing, occasionally transforming democracy. ("Yes, we can!") Things tend to work until they stop working and then they stop. Something else fills that void, or else it doesn’t. I'm sure some people were pissed when they stopped getting their milk delivered to their doorstop too. But those pissed off people had electric refrigerators to fill the void, so the right hand gaveth and the left hand tooketh away. Things change! (My wife says people don’t drop old ways, they adopt new, better ways. True – the flip side of the same coin. Remember film canisters? Taking rolls of film to a camera store to be developed? Yes, I did those things less than a decade ago. Seems quaint now, doesn't it? A better, easier, cheaper, digital system came along. Now I use that system.) Change may be weird and scary, but it is also the Way of the World. Since always. Has your mind been blown yet?
At any rate, one feels – I feel that creeping fear when the world seems to be taking away things that I like, comforting things. It’s hard to wake up each morning and be told that something you really enjoy isn’t shared by enough people across the country and that thing is no longer economically viable. Aside from the sadness of losing that thing you love, one tends – I tend – to feel disconnected in addition. Why don’t more people buy books and read fiction like me? Since when did people stop listening to whole albums from beginning to end? What am I doing wrong? How did I fall out of step with society-at-large? And do I even want to get back into step?
Much has been made of the demise of the newspaper in particular, no doubt because all the people making much of this demise are former, current, part-time, or hopeful newspaper writers. On a theoretical level I understand their hysteria: it’s a scary, strange thing when something that feels so much like a pillar-of-organized-society stares down the double-barreled shotgun of inevitable failure. My aunt, a super-successful lifelong newspaperwoman said, and I paraphrase, “sure, the internet is great and all, but since there is no business model for actually generating any serious money off Yahoo! News and the like, who will actually pay writers who write the stories?” To this thought I add: who will pay people to fact check and copyedit, who will pay the expenses incurred to get around the world, who will pay the best writers more and fire the crummy ones, etc etc etc? These are valid questions, and they are the same questions that made me scared, like all these newspaperfolk wailing and gnashing their teeth. But over time I am coming to a slow feeling of peace towards this. The best way will find its way to the top. Newspapers found their way to the top, after all, and stayed there for 150 years or so. Now something else will rise as the Times and Post and Trib find themselves hurting and shrinking. There may be an uncomfortable interregnum, but something will Darwin its way out of the internet ooze and climb to the top of the Galapagos. Or something. Right? (It's also possible that the demise of newspapers has been greatly exaggerated...)
Maybe this is all Obama-fueled “rebuilding America” hope on my part, and maybe it is an empty hope. But even without the Baracktimism, I have to think that a market opportunity (read: $$) will result from the collapse of the newspaper industry, and where there is opportunity, there will be entrepreneurs. Maybe not the Sam Zells of the world, maybe not even the newer dudes like the Larry Pages and Sergey Brins, but someone. And so too with these other industries whose failures are giving me metaphorical heartburn – even if it means that I don’t have bookshelves in the same way as I do now, I believe that books won’t disappear altogether. I fought the idea of digital music on the same sorts of personal grounds: I love shelves of CDs. Yet my iPod and digital downloads pretty much won me over in the end, just like that digital camera. I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if I was won over by some form of awesome e-book in the future, or some sort of digital newspaper. Milk remains as yet undigitizable, so that’s safe in this strange and unsettling new world, even if the milkman was not.