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Meta-meta-meta-commentary on print

2010 April 24
by Matt

It’s sometimes amusing to follow the chain of hyperlinks around the world wide web. In this case, several days ago a gentleman name Dave Eggers had this to say:

I don’t want to wake up and look at a screen. I feel like as a society, we try to put everything on that same goddamn screen, and pretty soon we’re going to be eating on the screen or, like, making love through the screen. It’s just sort of like: ‘Why does everything have to be on the screen?’

On Wednesday morning, that and other comments were reported here at the Nieman Journalism Lab web site. Later that same day blogger Liz Danzico posted a subset of comments to her blog. A few hours ago, writer Warren Ellis excerpted the above quote in a post to his own blog. And about half an hour ago I read Ellis’ post and decided to write one of my own. (I wonder whether Vannevar Bush envisioned anything like this when he was developing the ideas in “As We May Think?”)

In terms of actual “substantive” commentary of my own, well, I’m very sympathetic to the attitude which Eggers expresses. On the other hand, along with the humor of Ellis’ cutting rejoinder, I see a couple of significant ironies in my own reaction:

  1. This multi-person international commentary about the qualities of print is happening entirely through the agency of electronic communication.
  2. For all the fact that I like print, like working with it and like designing for it, and thus find Eggers’ quote generally resonant… the first thing I do nearly every day is “wake up and look at a screen.” My morning news fix, like 99% of the news I access, arrives via the web.

Which, to indulge in a mild tangent, is probably as big a warning sign for the future of print newspapers as anything there is, with or without an “i-” prefix. Consider: I’m over 30, I grew up reading print newspapers, I follow the news fairly avidly, I like reading in print, I’ve never taken to TV news and don’t have any plans on the horizon to get any kind of e-reading device. And yet I have never subscribed to a print newspaper in my entire life as an independent adult. I may go into further thoughts on that another time, but the bottom line seems to be that if print newspapers aren’t selling to someone like me, what possible prospects do they have in the future of Generation Text-Message and their descendants?

Strange days indeed. I’ll close with a snippet from a slashdot conversation of several years back (I would link to the original post, but I didn’t save the url and can’t seem to find it with their search engine). I think it’s an amusing explanation of why I had to surround the word “substantive” in quotes for this post:

Giant Hairy Spider:

Here we are, posting comments on a link to commentary on a review of an analysis of the future of a medium for a mode of expression.

Now people are going to moderate these comments, and meta-moderate the moderation, and probably comment on both level of moderation.

Given the typical error factor in each level of analysis, there is a near certainty that there is no meaningful connection between this discussion and physical reality.

So does this mean we’ve gone insane or that we’ve evolved into creatures of pure thought and energy?


It means we’ve evolved into abstracted creatures of pure thought and energy who also happen to be insane.

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