On Sunday mornings, at the rise of dawn, I run outside, pajama-clad and sleepy-eyed, and eagerly grab my Sunday edition of the New York Times. This subscription was a present I awarded myself once my income rose from “How am I a grown-ass adult and making so little?!” to “At least I can afford new underwear now.” Receiving the New York Times had been a long-standing adult goal, one I wasn’t able to justify until recently due to its high cost and the accessibility of free news online. As a writer who spends the majority of her days on the computer and phone, I want to digest information in a familiar and comfortable way; when I signed up for the Sunday edition of the Times (50% off the subscription rate!) two years ago, I was giddy over the tactile absorption of information.
And two years later, I still anxiously await my Sunday paper. I spread it out over my kitchen table, my Jeff Goldblum coffee mug in hand, and spend hours canvasing every column, from the reports on international atrocities to the essays of the love-filled or lovesick in Modern Love. I read the obits, What You Get and 36 Hours. I start the week feeling as though I know a thing or two about the world, and as a former dolt on national or international news, I now proudly start conversations with “I read in the New York Times that…” What I don’t finish in the paper, I save for another day because I refuse to throw away this beautiful relic until I soak in every last part of it.
When I opened yesterday’s Sunday edition of the New York Times, I was surprised to discover a package folded into the paper. The curio was the size and shape of the box of checks your bank sends you after opening an account, and at first I thought maybe the New York Times sent me a bunch of checks. Before I could form a thought on why the New York Times would send me a box of checks, I identified that it was something branded as Google Cardboard, which looked much like a DIY viewfinder. I immediately took to Twitter to share my find, but soon discovered that I, as usual, was way behind on technology news. “It’s a virtual reality device” people tweeted back. “It’s for their ‘The Displaced’ piece.” “‘The Displaced’ piece” being a video essay of three children displaced by war.
My first feeling upon learning what the device did was one of disappointment. The New York Times was my escape from the ocular, and sometimes mental, oppression of the screen, and here they are asking me to not only digest their news online, but in a form that completely removes me from kinetic reality by leading me head-first into an all-embracing virtual experience.
But disappointment quickly turned to sadness. I was reminded that newspapers, even the most iconic ones, need to find new ways to engage their viewers or otherwise risk extinction. The New York Times saw an increased profit this second quarter of 16 million, due in large part to their digital subscribers, but they continue to see traditional newspaper subscriptions flatline. At least 24 newspapers have either shuttered their doors or switched to online-only in the past eight years, and the threat to many more papers looms heavy.
“The Displaced” is indeed magnificent, a work of art that all involved should be supremely proud of, but I’m hesitant to step over to the virtual side for my news and information; I’m anxious that even a proven, centuries-old format is not immune to change. Newspapers are now adapting and evolving in order to survive, but what does it say about us that the traditional newspaper isn’t a sufficient form of information? What does it say that we need to digest everything through our smartphones and computers?
Does this make me a Luddite? Maybe since I fall on the older-side of millennials, as a person who distinctly remembers life before and after the Internet but counts on the Internet to fuel her career, I don’t feel the strong need to constantly stay up with technology. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m getting older, and at risk of sounding like a grandmother who “walked two miles to school in knee-deep snow!” I long for the days when everyday life was “simpler,” when we weren’t tied to our cell phones and computers for information, entertainment and communication to our friends and family.
Why do we need to replace old rituals for trends in technology? Removing ourselves from The Screen as often as possible keeps us grounded in reality, something that is becoming increasingly difficult. Though I don’t consider myself addicted to technology, I spend time on my smartphone or computer from the moment I wake to the last yawn of the evening, only taking a break in order to not be “that asshole” on her device(s) during time with friends and family. That’s sixteen hours off and on of screen time, and chances are you are in the same boat.
I’m not calling for an end of the incredible advancements made in such a short period of time in mankind’s history, but there is a part of me that would love for it to just slow down (minus medical technology or any technology that is a huge boon to society). When everything is changing, there are few tangible constants some of us desire, like a newspaper being delivered to our house, being spread across our kitchen table and staining our fingers gray.