3 min read

Slipping Upward

Our cultural soul is being digitized to death with inaudible applause.
Slipping Upward

I have a Charlie Brown mug.

It's a sort of hideous thing, a giant hollowed-out head of the character granted and gifted to me in good faith for winning a Peanuts-based trivia challenge. I haven't used it yet because somehow, in a grotesque way, it feels like sipping from the shrunken skull of Charles Schultz. It feels so anathema.

Peanuts was one of the first cartoon strips I can remember, next to Family Circus and Doonesbury. They were a daily thing, a way to spend a few moments absorbed in something that only had a partial relevance to life as we knew it, and to a greater extent, columns such as this one.

The smell of the newsprint was intoxicating and part of the experience. I still can smell the ink and the paper in my mind's olfactory now by simply thinking back to those days. There were other markers, of course, the sound of the thlock! as the paper hit the concrete in the early morning sheathed in its microthin clear plastic condom that, for some reason known only to science, actually managed to keep the bundle dry.

News has always been a process, and I think that with the larger entities that still do the paper delivery, that becomes a thinner vision for those where the local press has shrunk away almost into oblivion. With that shrinking, a bit of the social soul and community cohesion also dies.

It could be said that with the technical advancements of the last two decades, the experience of the newer generation provides better access to media and the daily information ingested.

But this is not the media spectrum of my youth and experience. There is not a Walter Cronkite to be had. I dare you to provably show me one.

My father used to say that a level-headed Alabama girl was one that could drool snuff down both sides of her mouth equally. That saying was so damned old that my spell-checker tagged it. This ain't your momma's world anymore.

Okay, maybe yours, but not mine. I outdate VCRs, ATMs, and cell phones. In fact, I'm so old comparatively that my spellcheck is now trying to kill me off and put me in the past tense. We disagree on things quite a bit. And in the realistic scheme of things, I'm still pretty young and trying to take care of myself.

I understand the digital age because, in my other life as an engineer, I had a hand in creating and building it. But for those much older than me, there is a heavy shock value toll to pay.

Consider the tangibility that has been in their lives. Many of the things they hold dear, they can actually hold. Photos, objects, newspapers and magazine clippings all are now shifting to forms that aren't the same.

They have been following their children, grandchildren, families, and people they loved and admired for decades, and then one day, the ability to record those events in an easy-to-reach manner within their fingertips just disappears.

National Public Radio recently reported that three Alabama print newspapers are shutting down their printers and going digital in February of 2023. This has nothing to do with my father's silly tobacco joke. And at the end of the day, you cannot fault the papers for their decision.

The money and the readership simply aren't there anymore. The population differential has shifted, and times have changed. In the last decade, the print readership of the three papers discussed dropped from 260,000 to 30,000. If each city had a hockey arena, they could fill the stands with their readership and have seats left over.

Magazines appear to be the same way. So it's the end of an era.

But then this era shall end as well. What will be the next method after social media has been cast along the wayside, and what will those memories be for us?

I doubt it will be the smells, but you never know.