Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My romance with print

I’ve noticed an unnerving disdain for print in today’s digital culture.

In the New Media world of Twitter and social networks like Facebook and MySpace, print holds little allure, or romance or even usefulness.

It’s all about the Internet.

“This is where it’s all happening,” a college student informed me recently while helping me post my literary magazine, The Rogue Voice, online. “It’s all about interactivity.”

“Yeah,” I responded, “but so many of my readers tell me they like having something they can hold in their hands and read, not a computer, but a magazine.”

He responded: “How old are these people?”

“About my age.” I’m 50.

“Exactly,” he said. “I’d say most young people don’t have the romance with paper that you and your readers have.”

I don’t understand this; first, because I’ve had few romances I’ve enjoyed more, and second, because print helped revolutionize the Western world, which suggests it deserves more respect.

I’m not against advances in communications and access to information; I’d simply like to see print given its rightful place in the history and progress of civilization.

In the last 500-plus years, the printing press played a key role in spreading the balance of power that comes from knowledge; it put literacy and language into more people’s hands.

In many respects, its ability to put vast amounts of information at people’s fingertips has had the same democratizing effect that the Internet is having on people around the world today. It opened the floodgates for the advancement of science, the arts, history and literature, galvanizing cultures and informing the masses.

Of course, abuses have occurred through the printing of propaganda and lies, but overall I’d say the world is a much better place than it might have been if print had never come to be.

Now, I’m being told that I need to get with the times, be web savvy, and forget print. I’m working on it, but don’t ask me to give up print. For some reason, which is hard to explain, I prefer print as the medium for losing myself in stories, as a means of escape from the daily grind.

There’s a quality of stillness and imagination I feel when reading printed material (especially books) that doesn’t seem possible with a laptop, or a desktop or even the latest iPhone.

I like print: books, magazines and newspapers, anything I can read without the buzz and whir and beeping of a computer or cell phone.

I like to sit in the shade of a tree, or lounge on a hammock, and lose myself in a novel or short story or poem and read until I enter another world or doze off—without worrying about whether my book falls to the ground.

I like the sensation of a powerful story staying with me long after I’ve put it down because it engaged my imagination rather than my ego.

My greatest concern with the demise of print: That our ability to imagine will suffer, that it will succumb to the narcissism that is so much a part of social networking and Internet discourse.

Print keeps me grounded and connected to the world in a way that doesn’t seem possible with the New Media. It allows me time to pause and reflect, to be absorbed in a world that exists only between me and the author, without twitters and instant messages and constant updates.

My recent experience working with young authors and aspiring journalists—and the sad fact that newspapers and numerous other publications are dying all over the country—suggests that print has become passé.

It’s so Old School.

Advocates for the New Media—in their enthusiasm for “interactivity,” online networking, and uploading every trivial (does any of it ever reach the sublime?) opinion or detail of their life—give the impression that print no longer serves any useful purpose.

Slowing down, settling in with a good book, letting the mind wander, getting away from the computer, and using the imagination have lost their appeal.

I refuse to give in. While I support advances in information technology, I’ll never let go of the romance of the printed word. §


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  2. Thanks for posting this, Stacey, and for giving us an opportunity to respond to it with a comment instead of just with a return letter, so that our responses are also published to an audience, so that our power in the dialogue is almost--though not quite--mutual, the power is not all hoarded, as it once was, by the owner of the printing press.

    I also miss much about print. One of my objections to daily and weekly newspaper journalism was that it was too fast. I wanted everyone to slow down, be more careful, go more in depth, write better sentences. Internet news is much, much faster.

    I also miss the disappearance of the culture that surrounded print, the rogues in the newsroom with their sizing wheels and pica poles and red-wax pencils--and their peculiar combination of hard-boiled toughness and meticulous attention to grammar--but I also have to acknowledge that was an exclusive club. Not everyone was admitted, especially at the upper echelons. And that culture spoke at the people. And the people had only a tiny voice in return.

    I think that if print is being disrespected, it is only because print is not dead yet. Once it's dead, there will be widespread nostalgia for it. Just as the dominant culture in America began to celebrate Native Americans... once they were finally confined to reservations. I expect many will join you in romancing the printed word.

    It's in your nature to resist, my friend, and I respect and admire that quality in you. You would not be you without it. But let us consider the fellow who, when the printing press came along, just lamented the disappearance of the illuminated manuscript. The same revolution that Gutenberg started is happening on the internet. It's uglier in some ways, but also prettier in others.

    As for sitting under a tree with something in your hands... Scientists are already working on digital paper ( You can hold it in your hands. Fold it up and put it in your pocket. Open it up and read... anything in the world. Except the stuff that's only on paper.

  3. Frankly Stacey,
    I think that you are confusing romance with sentimentality. I would like everything I read to be lovingly and artistically transcribed by monks in monasteries like they did in the Middle Ages, but that is simply not realistic. In the end, you want to reach as many people as possible, as cheaply as possible. Take this blog you put together for free. Anyone in the world could participate in this discussion and have their voice heard immediately. By the way, are you familiar with the Kindle? You could have the Rogue Voice available on that and people can read it anywhere. You might even develop a new romance with that, Stacey.
    And should I bother talking about the waste of paper and environmental concerns?
    Print is dying. No matter how good the writing is in the Rogue Voice, it is not going to revive it.