Editor's Letter: The Printed Word
A friend for life
I admit it. I neglected a lifelong friend. Well, not entirely, but I did begin spending more time with a new acquaintance, one who had desirable traits that the old friend didn’t. My new friend was flexible, versatile and seemingly convenient, ready to accompany me most everywhere.
But I’m back now. Fortunately, my old friend holds no grudges, so we’ve picked up where we left off. However, my old friend is weaker than before, struggling to display the energy and fortitude of days past.
You see, this friend has been neglected by lots of fair-weather friends like me. Besides switching from books to e-readers, many readers have segued from newspapers and magazines to website content – which they expect to access for free.
In the early days of tablets, e-books and computers, the proverbial “they” predicted that digital forms of communication would soon supplant print. That hasn’t happened, but the crystal ball displays an opaque future.
Nostalgia contributes in part to my lifelong affinity for books. As a kid, I would read at night before turning out the light (I still do) and then again as soon as I opened my eyes the next morning (until adult responsibilities put an end to that). I recall reading under the covers and up in trees. I remember Nancy Drew and the Happy Hollisters; books on animals, such as Old Yeller and The Yearling (so sad!); biographies like Nancy Hanks: Kentucky Girl; and classics, including Across Five Aprils, Julie of the Wolves, Call of the Wild and Little Women. I spent many happy hours with magazines such as Highlights and Ranger Rick’s Nature Magazine.
And I fondly recall reading books to my kids: Pat the Bunny, The Midnight Farm, Love You Forever (I never made it through without crying), The Paper Bag Princess, Where’s Waldo, and Shel Silverstein and Sesame Street books (I could do some mean impressions of Bert, Ernie and Elmo).
But I appreciate the practical benefits of the printed word, too. I pick up a book or magazine and start reading – no need to wait for it to start, update or recharge. I see a book’s cover art, title and author each time I pick it up, and I know my progress at a glance. A book doesn’t emit light that can interfere with my sleep. For research, printed versions are preferable for highlighting, bookmarking, cross-referencing and making notes; plus they’re easier to line up on the bookshelf for later reference and recall. There’s even something satisfying about seeing my collection of books and magazines, a bevy of friends I can touch and revisit.
The print versions invariably capture my attention better than a smart device, too. Some research reports have shown that the brain actually better retains information read on paper than on a screen. Besides, it just doesn’t seem appealing to snuggle up with a good e-reader.
Indeed, if Yankee Candle could capture the scent of a library packed with old tomes, I’d purchase a lifetime supply.
A SHAKY TRANSITION
My crystal ball suggests that both print materials and electronic versions have staying power.
E-book sales fell 13.9 percent in 2016 over the previous year, while print book sales rose 6 percent in the first six months of 2016.
National magazines recently have played games of applecart upset, but many Richmond staples still provide local content to readers, both in print and online (including BOOMER, fortunately!). The out-of-sight-out-of-mind problems that hamper digital presentations keep print magazines visible, on distribution stands and on the coffee table.
Newspapers seem to have felt the pain more than any other media. (I could devote an entire column to this topic but suffice it to say: if we expect to get our news for free, we risk killing investigative journalism – and, as a result, our free democracy.)
AN UNCERTAIN OUTCOME
Baby boomer and comedian Paula Poundstone rants against over-dependence on our electronic devices. “If Robert Frost had lived today,” she says, “he would have written, ‘Whose woods are these? I think I’ll Google it.’”
As boomers, we grew up with books; we have experienced and often even embraced the rise of the internet; so we have insights that others may lack. Those insights can help us influence what comes next through our purchasing power, our gifting and our conversations. Hopefully, this old friend can continue to provide future generations with warm fuzzies and pragmatic sustenance.