6.20.2011

The Killer App

The Sunday New York Times cost me $6 this week.

I suppose I could’ve bought a couple Productivity and News apps with that cash, but they would’ve been nearly impossible to use in the front porch sunlight of a Vermont summer morning.

Newsprint, on the other hand, read quite well. No screen adjustment required. No batteries needed.

Don’t get me wrong: I truly and deeply dig my digital world, and have even found myself upping the stakes a bit recently. I just read my first complete book on the tiny screen of my iPhone (“Clash of Kings,” 585p) -- something I've often swore I’d never do – and found that I enjoyed it quite a bit.

But my love for a great newspaper like the Times makes my digital dalliances feel as vapid as a pre-teen crush during the snowball skate at Wheel's Roller Rink. A little impulsive, a little immature, and more than a little superficial.

It’s not the classic intimacy argument that tilts my machine toward newspapers ... otherwise known as the there’s-nothing-like-curling-up-with-a-newspaper-in-bed-on-a-rainy-Sunday line of thought. Instead it’s the plain and stark reality that a newspaper is just simply better at the job of educating by brain.

If it were all about "delivering information," the robots would win hands down every time. But it's about more than telling one story at a time. It's about telling all the stories, all at once.

If it were all about price, the robots used to win every time too. But thanks to the rise of paywalls at the Times and others, the subsidy of online news has finally been removed, and the price is feeling more and more right for that Sunday Times purchase.

The “new” standards of the digital age even back up the dominance of newspapers.

Like “curation” …. after spending weeks immersed in Google Reader, TweetDeck, Facebook, and a few other click-here-for-more aggregates, the beauty of a newspaper design is that you actually start reading the stories that you normally would walk right past in your digital life. We’ve seen the info on how Google is making us stupid, on how Twitter is narrowing our perspective, and how Facebook is spoon feeding us customized marketing messages … but the obvious corollary is how newspapers allow the brain to think: on a diet of rich content, real portions, and flavorful perspectives, that are absorbed by the brain from a broadsheet layout in a way that simply can’t happen online.

Or like “sustainability” … recyclable, reusable, and 100% made in the USA, the daily newspaper doesn’t get the same scrutiny as Apple’s labor practices and green standards, but maybe it should.

On the sleepy little street where I live, each day of the entire year brings the same ritual. Darkness ends, the sun comes up, and my neighbors walk past the house.

Not all the neighbors, just a certain pair. They are retired, proper, and well prepared for whatever weather waits for them. They walk during the glorious sunshine filled days of summer, but they also go in the pissing dark rain of late October, in November’s frequently treacherous days of freezing rain, and during the epic Nor’easters of deep winter.

It’s not the goal of exercise that brings them out of their house. Nor socializing with a furry necked neighbor like me.

It’s the New York Times, waiting for them on the newsstand.

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