What a Social Media World Leaves Behind

There is a man – I don’t know his name – that comes to our local Starbucks every morning, pushing his walker with the tennis ball feet and flashing a gorgeous toothless smile.

He orders coffee. He finds a table and settles gingerly into his seat. And then he pulls out a newspaper and starts to read.

And he reads. And he reads. And he reads and reads until the paper finally surrenders, having nothing more to give, it’s pages creased and ink smudged.

The man smiles again, because he knows he has won. He has mastered this piece of technology, his daily ritual as much one of pride as it is of knowledge.

This should matter to those of us in the digital world for one simple reason: Because there are those of us who do not live in the digital world.

These people are not ignorant, not stubborn, not Luddites or purists. They are not old or insignificant.

Not everyone can afford the latest technology, nor should that ability be a prerequisite for access to news and information. Not everyone wants to be online or connected 24/7, nor should that behavior grant passage to broader understanding.

So the question is this – when the last newspaper comes off the press, and all the world’s news and ideas and hopes and dreams are atomized into lines of code, what do I tell the man in the coffee shop?

3 thoughts on “What a Social Media World Leaves Behind

  1. What do you tell the man in the coffee shop? Nothing, he’ll be dead by the time the last newspaper rolls of the printing press. That time is far away and by then the Kindle or similar devices will be free, so getting your news will cost less than buying that paper. But for those who choose the singular focus and tactile pleasures that reading an actual paper provides there will still be a way to buy or print your own paper. In fact I bet you and I will be dead before there is no more printed paper, if it ever does happen.
    Pardon me while I put on a vinyl record and do some writing in my Moleskine.

  2. Tac — actually, if you had seen this guy, you’d think he’d be dead in a week 🙂
    Agree with you 100 percent, it was more of a rhetorical question — not a literal one or made in fear of print going away. I just want us to think about the Digital Divide and make sure that all have access to the news they need regardless of medium. Paper will be around, but it’s what’s in the paper I worry about — that the more meaningful and useful reporting ends up going online and not the printed page too.

  3. Gary, I love the personification of the newspaper surrendering to the old man’s determined reading. With that image and the question about what social media leaves behind, I felt sure you were going to reflect upon this current cultural moment we are living in, where very few get to experience that feeling of control, mastery, completeness. Most are afflicted with what Johan Galtung called “chronic image flicker” – a constant barrage of images and information. Unlike the old man, we never feel like we have conquered anything; rather, we’re just paddling furiously in hopes of keeping our heads above water. I like Thomas Eriksen’s question: “How can I sleep at night knowing that I have filtered away 99.99 percent of the information I have been offered; how can I be certain that the 0.01 percent that I actually use is the most relevant bit for me, in so far as I haven‘t even sniffed at the rest? . . . Today, the jungle has become so dense that one needs to be both stubborn and single-minded in order to be well informed about anything at all.” The old man in your story doesn’t live with this anxiety. His connection to place and pause – that deep, satisfied breath – is what might be left behind.

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