2013—Digital media expands…print media shrinks

Over the last three years I have had occasional “musings” about our digital information age and even ventured forth with a few comments…

2010– 2011…Time for a new route or an old rut?

2011–My Book My Record…Thriving Analog Artifacts in a Digital World?

2012– Digital Books…the next generation reading format?

In keeping with this three-year tradition, I offer a few thoughts for 2013

As Bob Dylan might have put it: “The Times And Media, They Are A-Changin'”

2013 is a year in which the “digitizing” and electronic distribution of text and image media will proceed apace.  More and more people will be using their phones, tablets, e-readers, and laptops to create and distribute, text, photos and videos…and to secure their news, not to mention directions to the nearest store having the object of their heart’s desire on sale…at the lowest price.

As a consequence, the future of print media in 2013…the latest 2014, perhaps…does not look particularly promising.  For example, the December 31, 2012 print edition of Newsweek was its last. Starting in 2013, readers will be able to access the magazine only by subscribing to online delivery. For a detailed explanation of this decision, go to A New Chapter…Sometimes change isn’t just good, it’s necessary. One wonders whether Time magazine will be far behind.

At the local level we still have print editions of The Press Democrat and the Petaluma Argus Courier, with no notice, as of the time of this writing, that they will cease.  However, there has been discussion of charging for online content at one or both of these publications.  Advance notice, perhaps, that the print editions are in jeopardy?

Change is inevitable and inexorable.  The movement to exclusive online distribution of stories and news will, in my opinion, change the nature and character of the content.  My view is perhaps conditioned by the fact that I am used to reading long articles such as the recent 14 page section in the New York Times presenting a single story complete with several large photographs.  In a world where it is difficult to get many to click beyond one or two screen pages, writing such as this will not survive.  I, for one, will miss it.

In one sense the rapid changes in media are an affirmation of Marshall McLuhan’s aphorism: “The medium is the message. This is merely to say that the  personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of  ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by  each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.”

Oh to be sure there will be an ever increasing volume of information coming to us on our various electronic devices and small screens in the years ahead. However, I for one will cling to the New York Times Sunday print edition for as long as it is available.  As for Newsweek, I will miss it and will not subscribe online.  This is not out of spite.  It is simply that online reading of long articles is not something I particularly care to do.

What will happen to text,  I think, is what has already happened to photos. See Many More Images, Much Less Meaning.

We face, I suspect, a future of endless communication…with less information.

Digital Books…the next generation reading format?

FIRSTIt was charcoal drawings on a cave wall (a precursor to modern graffiti)

NEXTIt was writing on scrolls

THEN CAMEThe Codex or, if you prefer, the bound book, magazine, or newspaper

TODAYWe move to digital text?

Delivering the “written word” digitally, as opposed to hard copy books, magazines, or newspapers is touted as the next generation in publication, replacing the codex (a.k.a. books & magazines) which has prevailed since the Middle Ages. There is considerable speculation that books and book stores may become obsolete. See The Bookstore’s Last Stand

By way of a brief history, the codex replaced the cumbersome scroll as a means of recording and publishing information.  It was considered a major advance as the pages were written on both sides and could hold twice as much information and text as the cumbersome scroll. It also allowed the reader quick access to any part of the publication by simply turning or marking a page. 

The codex or book, if you will, was the breakthrough technology of its day.

  • I suspect that the transition from the scroll to the codex may have presented some initial difficulties for scholars and monks.  Change is always a bit of a challenge regardless of the time or place!
  • YepTo reinforce the point, consider the situation portrayed in this Medieval Help Desk video when a monk sought technical advice on how to use the new book technology. 

Turning now to the 21st Century, it has now been a little over two weeks since I announced that we acquired an e-book reader in All A Twitter Over Our New Kindle

So how are we doing?

I was somewhat skeptical about the utility of the device; however, I must confess that while there have been some initial challenges in learning how to use it (climbing the learning curve, if you will), we enjoy it. I admit to having a certain amount of sympathy with the monk in the video learning to use the new book technology as we were similarly “challenged” for a few days by the Kindle. But we are well past all of that and are “experienced” users. 

On the positive side I can report that it is quite easy to read and operate. It is also quite convenient if one does not want to tote around one or more books on a trip.  As with most such devices, you can also subscribe to your favorite magazines and newspapers. Some local libraries are also making books available for e-reader users.

On the negative side, I find that the e-reader lacks the visual impact of a full page layout in a magazine or newspaper. In addition, the scanning and skipping around with your eyes, fingers, and thumbs while reading a “traditional” publication is a bit clunky. It is a bit of a regression, in a sense, to the limitations of the scroll when it comes to accessing specific pages or sections.  However, for straight ahead or linear reading without jumping around it is first rate. 

Speaking of reading, it is my turn on the Kindle. So I will bid adieu and take up a little light reading for the balance of the day…

NOTE: I somehow managed to put the Kindle down long enough to go outside and play with my camera toys. To view my latest attempts at photography, go to Photos from the street…

My Book My Record…Thriving Analog Artifacts in a Digital World?

FOREWORD

The two stories in this article were developed as the result of comments posted to 2011…Time for a new route or an old rut? by readers in Peoria, Illinois and Sonoma, California. Both comments suggested that the dystopian digital future I portrayed was perhaps not as comprehensive as I inferred. Whether it is or not remains to be seen.  Notwithstanding, I think the stories are worth telling in their own right…

     A book story…                                                                                                                        

 A record story…

PEORIA, ILLINOIS (Books)

Reader Mary Dene Etter reports that hard copy books are still popular with children in Peoria: “I am currently involved in a local project to put six books in the hands of all K thru 4th graders in District 150 (Peoria) schools. In a little over two years we have distributed 12,000 books.  I cannot imagine anything digital replacing their enthusiasm as they anticipate having their own library.”                                   (Photo Courtesy of Look! It’s My Book!)

I fully realize that there are programs such as this in many cities. Notwithstanding, this story caught my attention as I am a product of Peoria’s District 150 schools.

The book distribution program described by Mary Dene is sponsored and managed by Peoria’s Look! It’s My Book!  and Janet Roth, President describes their efforts:

The most wonderful magic has been the incredible support that Look It’s My Book! has  gotten.  We are now up to seven schools, (there is a district wide poverty level of 70%); we’ve given away over 12,000 books, and have over 160 volunteers. 

It has been so fun to see the children pick their books!  One little girl actually clapped her hands and jumped for joy when she found out we had Fancy Nancy! One little boy came over and asked me how did you pronounce the word mischievous. I told him. Then he asked, “What does it mean?”  I said it was someone who wasn’t exactly bad, but who got into trouble sometimes and liked to do things like play practical jokes.  His eyes lit up and he asked “How do you pronounce that again?” I think he identified with the term.*

Mary Dene also reported by e-mail: “Many stories to tell — one from a bus driver who says he always knows when it’s been “book day,” the kids are so quiet (reading their new book).  We get lots of smiles and hugs; also get to witness their enthusiasm as they discuss their newest book with their friends.”

Back in the day, Peoria, Illinois was the most “middle” of middle class cities in a cultural and economic sense. The expression, “Will it play in Peoria?” evolved from describing a rough river town on the Vaudeville circuit to describing a city that was a test market for new consumer products.  It was, if you will, an island of middle class stability. 

Having moved to California in 1985, I lost touch with the “realities” of my home town. Consequently, I had trouble processing the fact that the poverty level in the district is now 70% as reported by Janet Roth. A little research verified this figure. See Schools struggling to deal with rise in poverty 

All I can say or offer at this point is a loud HUZZAH to the many people behind Peoria’s Look! It’s My Book!It may be a digital age, but you have found the perfect analog response to a difficult problem.

SONOMA, CALIFORNIA (Records) 

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I used to be a vinyl record collector. However, I thought the medium had disappeared with the advent of the audio CD in the early Eighties.

Therefore, when Gina Cuclis in Sonoma, California reported that her twin daughters (Seniors at Sonoma Valley High) love listening to vinyl records, she had my attention.  

  • She even suggested that this might be part of a larger trend eventually generating a nostalgic yearning for  printed newspapers. 
  • Perhaps…perhaps not. 

What focused my mind was the reference to records.  I know there is a small group of hard-core audiophiles who still reject the digital recording format in favor of analog records and spend large sums of money for playback equipment.  But I was not aware that the love of records was shared, shall we say, by a wider group of more rational people.

I pursued the subject further with Gina by e-mail and telephone:

My daughters — Olivia and Elena Tennant love vinyl. Olivia gave her sister several vinyl records for Christmas. I find this very interesting. As Millennials, they are the first generation to grow up with the Internet, yet they prefer old-fashioned vinyl records.

They tell me their friends feel the same way. I find them both at times with their friends in our living room listening to my husband’s and my old Rolling Stones albums. They say the vinyl “sounds better.” They will download from iTunes some of the same music for their iPods. But then they’ll listen at home to an old vinyl record.

As a music aficionado, I was taken aback by this information–I, for one, love the CD format and was more than happy to have moved on from records several years ago. 

I performed a little research and discovered that there is a genuine resurgence of interest in the record format. It is not confined to a group of young adults in Sonoma, California.

  • Many new releases are offered on Amazon in three formats:  CD, MP3 downloads, and…vinyl records.
  • Elvis Costello reportedly prefers the vinyl record medium.

Vinyl records? LP Albums? Who knew? Well, it seems is if Olivia & Elena have figured it out.

For more information on this phenomenon, see the “Vinyl Links” section at the end of this article.**

__________________

NOTES
* Our project becomes even more important as we look at crime.  The April 10th edition of the Economist looks at the question: Are there ways to prevent people from becoming criminals in the first place? There is plenty of evidence that a lack of education goes hand in hand with criminal behavior. But few studies have established that less education is actually a cause of crime.  However, now there is one. It was almost accidental, when the UK changed their law and extended the time students had to stay in school “they found a causal link between low education and crime.”   They found this group with the additional year of schooling was less likely to engage in criminal behavior.   The authors could even calculate that one year extra of education reduces property crime by 1-2%. And a study of American crime found the biggest benefit from extra education was fewer violent crimes.   Reading skills keep children in school.  Books in the home allow kids to gain those critical reading skills…that’s why we are doing Look! It’s My Book! 
  
**VINYL LINKS