Friday, July 17, 2009

Changing Times

It’s time to think in a whole new light. In the year 2009, everything that you considered commonplace and part of your routine can no longer be taken for granted. It truly is a whole new world. From my perspective, three things were always undeniable. There would always be radio, television and newspapers. Poof! None of these are now safe from extinction. Lights are going off…literally!

It is becoming harder and harder to purchase a self-standing radio. Who listens to the radio anymore? People listen to iPods or ‘radio’ via the Internet if they listen at all. Besides NPR, and a choice show here and there, little deserves our attention.

This has been an interesting year for television. I’m writing from a rural outpost in mid-Michigan where traditional television has just ended. We used to be able to see a handful of stations over-the-air. Dozens of channels were available via satellite. DirecTV recently raised their rates and scores of people in our neighborhood dropped the service. Analog television succumbed to digital and with it went all our reception. Only one TV station comes in when it feels like it. Watching a show that may be interrupted at any moment is unnerving at best. We also see some Canadian television drift in from across the lake, but the Canadians will turn off all their analog TV by August 2011. So now we entertain ourselves with DVDs or digital downloads.

Newspapers also seem to be on life-support. Our local journals, The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News, are now only weak memories of what they used to be. The physical size of the paper has shrunk and so has the page count. Even worse, the content of the paper only encourages its demise. As it decays, all of us reach for content via Internet sites.

Somehow, the experience is not the same. It’s hard to take a computer to the beach or make it a companion in the bathroom. It’s more formal and requires more effort. I also find it narrows your ability to discover items outside of your usual scope. Why don’t newspaper sites read like a newspaper instead of an endless list of stored articles?

See the light? Not for long! Incandescent light bulbs will be phased out in the year 2012. Start hoarding 100 watters now! Soon, you won’t be able to buy them! By 2014, the 75, 60 and 40 watt varieties will disappear, as well. Will we be left in the dark? Not really, but the color temperature is bound to be different. Someone has to develop an efficient new-wave lamp that is warm and cozy like today’s light bulbs. I can’t imagine a world lit in harsh red-deficient light.

Change is inevitable, but what I will miss most about the old world is immediacy and local content. My daughters are interested in The Beatles. They were fascinated to hear how, when The Beatles first arrived in America, all of New York City was listening to WABC deejays interviewing The Beatles live from their hotel room. Everyone had a transistor radio tuned to WABC and everyone was listening live, all at once, to the same thing. To the new world of iPodders, ‘live’ is an amazing concept.

Major news purveyors, like The New York Times or ABC News, may survive the Internet revolution. For example, the ABC News daily podcast is the center of my daily viewing. But what happens to local news? At home, I live in a suburb of New York City. Only fifty miles from a huge city, no local radio station truly covers my local news. A couple of townie papers are still printed but they are suffering from the poor economy and dwindling readership. Will anyone ever try to recapture local news services? Will it ever again become economically viable?

Welcome to the new world. In time, many people will acclimate to it or, if you are young enough, know nothing else. I may be nostalgic and set in my ways, but I will miss the good old days. Maybe we will need to revert back to basics like talking to neighbors. Will all local news be transmitted in Tweets? Time will tell!