I’ve heard it said that, thanks to the Internet, we now have access to as much information in a week as our grandparents had access to in their entire lifetime. That might be a bit of an overly broad generalization, but I think it’s a fair way to demonstrate the abundance of information now right at our fingertips — quite literally.
As much as I appreciate the ability to find virtually any tidbit of trivia or nugget of news in mere nanoseconds, I find I’m still adjusting to the concept.
That’s because I remember those days at grandma and grandpa’s house — where they actually excitedly anticipated the sound of the evening newspaper landing on the porch and the voice of Walter Cronkite’s beckoning them to spend a half hour of their time with him.
Imagine having to make a conscious choice to sit down in front of the TV at a specific time — or there wouldn’t be another opportunity to see a news broadcast for at least 24 yours. Or, if it was Friday, 72 hours because there was no network news on the weekends yet.
“Mobile” news meant listening to the “AM” car radio for five minutes of news “on the hour.” More progressive mobility of the day meant holding a “transistor” radio to your ear while you walked or rode your bike.
To watch the television news you sometimes had to endure waves of fuzziness or a rolling screen, as if poor Walter was spinning around on a Ferris wheel.
Radios introduced us to the concept of static — and voices that faded away then came back … eventually.
The newspaper, on the other hand, gave you the freedom to explore its pages at your leisure. It was operable in every room of the house, including the bathroom. Yes, it was the original “hand-held, portable” device.
Clipping-and-pasting something meant you actually clipped it and pasted it — with scissors and glue. You could “customize” it by pulling out the sections that you wanted, while throwing the others in the newspaper “basket” next to the TV.
And you could repurpose it seemingly endlessly — from using it as packaging material, to getting the fire going in the fireplace, or as fresh carpeting for the bottom of the bird cage. In a serious pinch, it was also occasionally used as toilet tissue and gift wrapping paper. But presumably never in that order.
It was truly the ultimate recyclable.
Now, as I write my column on my iPad Pro, jumping back and forth between various Websites to get near instant answers to any question I may have, I still appreciate the influence the printed newspaper had on all of it.
And the fact that it is still one outlet that truly allows you to absorb information at a manageable, even leisurely pace.
The irony is that small hometown community newspaper that still exist and have strong followings are doing so because they represent an alternative to the overload, and a source of stability and familiarity in a media landscape that has changed faster than most people can comprehend. Or want to.
And while the newspaper business has had its charlatans — those nefarious “supermarket tabloids” with relentless banner headlines about Bigfoot sightings and alien abductions — there was never really much of a concern about “fake” news in the credible newspapers — unless the date on the paper happened to be April 1, then you never knew for sure what those zany newspaper people might do.
Nowadays some online news outlets treat every day like April Fools Day. Unfortunately it’s not very funny.
Joe Hoshaw Jr. is editor and co-publisher of the Trenton Trib. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.