December 14, 2015
By Arthur H. Gunther III
There is comparison to be made to the fellow or gal standing in the corner of the dining room surfing a smartphone and a man/woman the same age sitting in a quite comfortable reclining chair in 1956. Both seeking information about local events, city, state, national, the world. Both thirsty for news. And each getting their fill.
The 1956 individual, home from all-day labor or still at home after duties there, dinner and chores finished, then finds time for relaxation with a newspaper. Perhaps he/she had several to choose from — the unfinished morning tabloids (two) and the afternoon dailies (three) plus the weekly local paper. Much to read.
Not all is read. Too much news to take in, so there is headline scanning and exploring some stories just three paragraphs in, more than enough to learn the “who, what, where, when, how and why,” written in what we old newspapermen learned was “pyramid style” — put the key facts first and fill out later. Don’t bury the substance of the story in the middle-to-last grafs. Almost a lost art now, though.
The 1956 fellow/gal might also move on to favorite columnists — sports, society, financial, commentary — and have “conversations” with them as these were well-invited guests each day to his/her home.
All in all, the man/woman back then, blue collar or professional or housewife, could rise from an evening easy chair well-read. Great for the individual. Excellent for an informed democracy.
Now to the 2015 fellow/gal standing with smartphone. No time to sit, as in 1956, or at least no effort to do so. On the run. Smartphone scanned for the latest e-mail in a constant stream, or text; or for “news” stories that actually are headlines and quick, but often incomplete summary grafs; or the latest Tweet from a public figure, a personality, a fellow Tweeter; or a Facebook posting; or the most recent (1 minute ago) picture of something or another.
So much information, and that is just from the short time spent scanning the phone screen while standing in the corner of a dining room. In 15 minutes, another scan, perhaps in the supermarket line. Then one in the bathroom. Or as a recent, funny cartoon proposed: a couple on a date, each scaling up the smartphone, not looking at each other, no conversation. But, hey, one can always text the other, then and there.
Though my heart and mind are with newspapers -- I cannot get through a day without them -- this piece is not to declare on my own that the 1956 man/woman absorbing information so very deeply in an easy chair was a better deal than the 2015 flood of “news,” etc., that is obtained in constant looks at the smartphone, or vice-versa. It is merely to comment that such were the scenes then and now. It is life morphing, as it always has. Will it be better for an "informed democracy?" We shall see.
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org