Growing up, we had The New York Times delivered every day. Reading it on Sundays was a ritual my father and I shared once I hit my teens. When I graduated from college and was out on my own, I bought a copy of The New York Times every day. It was what you did. And on Sundays I’d spend hours consuming it, every section except for Business and Real Estate.
I kept up the Sunday NYT habit until I moved here to Australia, where it cost about $25 to get a two-week-old copy of the Sunday NYT at Borders. So I migrated my weekend news habit to Saturdays and the Sydney Morning Herald.
I think I last bought a copy of the Saturday SMH around 2004. I tried subscribing, thinking if it was delivered to me I’d read it, but it didn’t make me any more inclined to do so. I got all the news and information I needed from the web (including the SMH and NYT web sites) and reading the paper just didn’t interest me anymore. The whole ritual of getting coffee, having a bagel, reading the paper, having more coffee… it just disappeared from my life. Well, not exactly. I still had coffee, still had a bagel – but now I did that with my laptop in my lap instead of the physical paper.
This weekend in Sydney the hotel delivered a paper to my door each morning. And I tried to read it, I really did. But the stories on the front page didn’t interest me and it seemed like too much effort to scan each page trying to find something that did. I tried the magazine, but even that seemed like it was full of crap put there to fill the space, with nothing of particular value.
The physical sensation of reading the paper didn’t work for me either. The blackish type against the grey paper didn’t really provide enough contrast. I didn’t have my glasses on and the type was difficult to read. When I’m reading on the net, the contrast is strong and the type seems more readable. If I find a page where the type is too small for me to read comfortably, I just jack up the size in my browser.
I wonder if my dissatisfaction with the newspaper experience means the way my mind works has changed. I no longer really have the focus to read a long and in-depth piece unless it’s on a subject that interests me. I flick from article to article, from website to website, following my whims and interests instead of consuming news linearly and in the order in which the editor deemed.
While I know I’m not all that interested in the iPad at the moment, I can see myself at some point buying it or some other device to read newspapers and magazines (I don’t buy magazines anymore either). I still read books for some reason – is it because I can’t get the content online? Maybe, but I’ve tried reading books or longer pieces of fiction on the web and it doesn’t quite work for me. There’s an intimacy with a book that I’ve only found with the physical book – an intimacy I don’t find with a newspaper or magazine.
I do think that we’ll live in a world without physical newspapers in my lifetime. Even now I think people look anacharistic carrying around a paper. If I can lose the ‘newspaper’ habit after more than 20 years, what about the people behind me in age who never had it all?