I read the newspaper (so others don’t have to)

I love the New York Times. I live in New York City. And I'm a journalism professor. So I feel like it's my personal, community and professional duty to get daily home delivery of one of the world's greatest newspapers. But sometimes when I see that foot-tall pile of papers accumulating over the course of a week, it seems like a part-time job and I kinda wish the Times were paying me to read their paper instead of vice versa.

Doing so, however, does unearth nuggets like these regarding current techno-cultural developments. First:

  • Cell refuseniks! While 85 percent of adult Americans have them now, some people still don't want cellphones. And they're not just stubborn old folks. A subset of people in, say, their 20s and 30s, who had cellphones have been getting rid of them. Even though it makes communication slower and less convenient, they say the sacrifice is worth it because they resent the disruption or want to save money or prefer handwritten letters or think gadgets prevent them from living in the moment. Will controlling one's own availability become the new status symbol? Social pressures will make that difficult, the article says. But since when is it cool to give in to peer pressure, people? (Hence, the need for a slow media movement to raise awareness and help people resist. Which leads to…)
  • The Tyranny of Email! You might have heard about this book, which was reviewed in the Times recently. The author, John Freeman, also had an essay in the Washington Post published under the rubric of "A Manifesto for Slow Communication." The gist of his argument: Compulsive emailing fosters a busy-ness and a numbness that detracts from leading a meaningful human life. Our time on earth is limited and we should use it more purposefully, which means slowing down. He notes the breakdown between work and personal life, the isolation from real-world places, the increased difficulty in reading slowly and listening and being idle and not fidgeting. His eloquent manifesto (which deserves to be appreciated in full) asserts, "This is not a sustainable way to live. This lifestyle of being
    constantly on causes emotional and physical burnout, work­place
    meltdowns, and unhappiness. How many of our most joyful memories have
    been created in front of a screen?"
  • How Not to Act Old! Like Freeman, this article on the workplace generation gap recommends that you stop sending e-mail — but for a totally different reason. It focuses on a new book arguing that people should avoid wearing watches, counting their change, or using landlines lest they look — and I quote from the subtitle here — "totally lame." Research shows that much of the generational divide arises from technology. While older people are still trying to catch up with Internet and cellphone use, younger people have already abandoned e-mail in favor of texting and Facebook, and they don't even listen to voice mails. (I also read somewhere recently that the average teenager sends and receives 50-70 texts every day. Yikes!)

From my contrarian, technoskeptical, alienated perspective


Six years and counting! My trusty cellphone-slash-pet might be old and doesn't have a text plan — but it still holds a full charge and has never been lost, stolen or broken.

Letters, postcards, landlines… I've been feeling nostalgic for the media of my youth — or at least of my formative years, circa late 1980s or early 1990s. Doesn't feel that long ago, but the spectrum of communication technologies has expanded in the intervening couple of decades. When I want to get in touch with a friend, I can vacillate for hours now deciding whether I should call them or text them or g-chat them or e-mail them, etc. What's the proper medium for the information I want to convey, or for the type of interaction I want to have? 

If they're at work, then I don't want to call and disturb them; I should probably text. But the details are too complicated, so I could always e-mail or g-chat. But maybe they're not near a computer, or by the time they reply, I might be away from mine. I want to have a live two-way convo anyway, because there's information to exchange or decisions to make, so if they don't answer the phone, I'll just leave a voice-mail. But, they probably wouldn't hear the phone message anyway; they're likely to just call back without listening, right? Or they'll just reply to my call with a text and I'll have to call them again or text them back: "Um, call me, geez!" Maybe I'll forgo the message and just let them see my number on their recent call list. But maybe they're in the subway, and my incoming call won't register; then I'll think they're not responding when really they didn't know I phoned. Or maybe…

Yes, these are the thoughts that run through my head every time I consider contacting a friend. Sometimes I wind up just not getting in touch with the friend at all due to paralysis induced by too many media choices. This state of being results in part from my disenchantment with digital media. It also contributes to my disenchantment, I know 

But, dear friends, even if I do call and you do answer the phone, chances are good that one of us will lose our signal, or our connection will be bad so we can't understand each other and I'll get frustrated repeating "What was that? I didn't hear you," or
you'll be in the middle of something so you'll have to call me back, or one of us will be driving and doesn't want to get a ticket or cause an accident, or I'm at a store/doctor's office/restaurant and other people are glaring at me for rambling on the cellphone in public. It's easier just not to call. Though digital media are supposed to be making us more connected, somehow I feel the opposite. 

Also, it might help to know that this is my phone (above). Not conducive to speedy texting, folks.