I read The New York Times on an almost daily basis. Whether it’s the front page headline about Obama’s unqualified support of gay marriage or an op-ed column of Gail Collins’, the events described – and the sentiments expressed – in the newspaper never fail to arouse my intellectual curiosity.
It’s important to note that I read the print version of The New York Times. While most of the world’s population navigates its way through the various image maps and hyperlinks of the World Wide Web, I run my fingers along ebony ink, underlining phrases of significance with a soon-to-be old-fashioned writing implement, the lead pencil.
I take pleasure in the physical components of not just newspapers, but books and magazines as well. The joy of being able to concretely grasp the source from which I draw inspiration is simple in nature, yet unique because of the material’s ability to actively engage its reader without the help of outside links or flashing pop-ups. I speculate that it is this very joy from which I may eventually be denied. Nowadays, hard copies of books, and especially those of newspapers, are rarely seen in the hands of young adults. Some of those who read for pleasure choose to purchase e-books, while many more receive their daily news via Twitter or Yahoo. It is rare in fact, to come across a college student reading a hard copy of a novel, when he or she might rather be scrolling through recent text messages or browsing web updates on an iPhone.
The truth is that print is losing ground. This past March, Encyclopedia Britannica announced that, after a 244 – year legacy, it would no longer be publishing a print version. The last print edition is the 2010 one, containing thirty-two volumes. The president of Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., Jorge Cauz, mused that a mere fifteen percent of this year’s revenue would probably come from purchases of prior print publications or subscriptions, the other eighty-five percent from the company’s various online educational programs. Cauz said that Encyclopedia Britannica was already leaning towards digital years ago, and clarified his belief in the need for change. He mentioned that the benefits of an online reference exceed those of a print one, considering the increasing costliness of traditional on-the-page print, in addition to the fact that an online database can be updated at any time, in accordance to shifting statistics.
Another example of print’s losing battle can be fond in New York City, on 211 Water Street, where the print shop, Browne & Co, Stationers is located. Gaining momentum in the late 1960’s, but not officially opening until 1975, the little building started out as a museum, the purpose of which was to preserve maritime and similar expertise, including that of job printing. The shop went on to become a neighborhood asset, printing social stationary and notecards not simply for tourists, but also for locals. In the 80’s, it managed to obtain a dignified typeface, the Tri Arts metal type collection, a group of typefaces which had been used by some of New York’s most prominent designers and agencies in the 50’s and 60’s. In its prime, the museum was a sort of symbolic time capsule, its grains of sand modern society’s cultured links to the past. The shop recently shut down, however, due to issues of deep debt.
While the cessation of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s print version signifies a societal shift in the acquisition of knowledge, the closing of Browne & Co. represents the shattering of the time capsule it once was, at least in the sense of community nostalgia it provided. Apparently print, in this fast-paced world ceaseless in its quest for advancement, is dying. There are numerous benefits to this evolution of course, such as cost-effectiveness, and the ability to communicate with more people more quickly. An endless stream of information, as we all know, can be supplied at the click of a finger, in the few seconds it takes for a web server to complete the user’s request. And almost anyone can become an author – blogging accounts continue to be created, while the personal publishing applications that technological tools like iPads come equipped with are ever expanding in scope.
But I wonder what would happen if print was to become permanently extinct. The computer has been around for a significant amount of time now, yet the Internet only launched into an all-in-inclusive resource about two decades ago, in the early 90’s. Truly, it is the print medium, in all of its present costliness, that secures an irreplaceable particle of society, one which could never be duplicated if it were extinguished. Physical pages covered in physical ink (even if accentuated by images) force readers to use their imagination and their own faculties to fill in the voids of reasoning or to comprehend unknown words, those of which would be looked up on dictionary.com if they were being read off the screen of a website. Print enables a connection between the recesses of one’s own soul because of its inability to distract a different part of one’s brain. It allows the reader to focus his attention entirely on the page before him because it is free from electronic nuances.
The methods through which we communicate are changing – as they always will be. The ancient scroll evolved into the pages of Gutenberg’s press, just as the dull-colored covers of many older books have become brighter and more attractive. Yet, the extinction of an entire medium is something that may result in unprecedented effects. The power of tangible print lies in it ability to stimulate the deepest parts of our humanity, the organic component of our very beings. Digital databases and online reading may have benefits, but it is important we remember the singular and viable nature of print. Technology is important, but even more so is our humanity.