Wednesday, July 08, 2009

What's happening to newspapers (and books?): two short tales

1. This evening, after various permutations I won't bore you with, I found myself at the kitchen table in front of a bowl cherries and a propped-up front section of today's New York Times. In my hand was my Blackberry. And therein was I reading...a story from tomorrow's Times.

2. Several weeks ago, in a Times Magazine story, I came across a reference to a chart I've seen before, showing variations by U.S. region in the average cost of treating the same disease. I thought, where's the link? Then I thought, oh, yeah -- this is the dead version. Not "the dead tree version" -- no ecological metaphor. Just a text that had no live windows to other sources.

On the other side of the coin, I worry that my capacity to read books is dimming. Maybe it's late-onset ADD, or simply a more permissible version of staring at the tube all evening, but I'm voting with my eyes, spending evenings jumping off blogs (and where Iran's concerned, twitters) into long and short articles and government documents.

Then too, my comfort reading on a Blackberry, and others' with a Kindle, makes me wonder whether books as we know them (usually, blocks of text ranging from say 50,000--500,000 words) will dissolve into a less differentiated documentland. As it is, you can already access almost anything that's past copyright from Google. This spring/summer, I've read Gatsby and most of The Scarlet Letter on my Blackberry.

All this leaves aside, for the moment, the thorny question of how authors and journalists can resume getting paid for their valuable work. I assume that commerce will eventually find a way. Meanwhile a paperless world, while arriving more slowly than some visionaries may have forecast, is I think arriving.

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