Mourning the digital slaughter

Sometimes I wonder how much more of the digital age I can stand before I go full-blown atavistic and start sending smoke signals and carving on rocks to communicate.

Indian cell phone

Since the advent of the internet roughly 15 years ago, many of the communication tools I cherish most are going away and will soon be gone forever. Typewriters. Film cameras. The Yellow Pages. Paper maps. Drafting pens. Hand-signed birthday cards that arrive by first-class mail (since the internet is killing both the U.S. Post Office and the greeting card industry).

Even my former favorite news magazine, Newsweek, is giving up the paper ghost and going online permanently next year. “Tina Brown, editor-in-chief and founder of The Newsweek Daily Beast Company, announced Thursday [October 18, 2012] that Newsweek will transition into an all-digital format in early 2013. … Newsweek is the first national news magazine to announce it is moving to the digital space.”

I suppose most local and national newspapers and magazines will eventually have to follow, and the only people who will be able to access the news of the day will be those who can afford the hardware and the internet connection. Not only that, but the transition from print to digital will sweep away forever many career positions in the fourth estate, particularly editors and fact checkers. This will deal a serious, potentially even fatal blow to democracy and citizen participation in government, in my opinion.

Other victims of the digital slaughter, either right now or soon, include the Encyclopedia Britannica print edition; telephone companies that supply land lines, as well as the phone books they print; catalog printers; in-person classroom instruction at every educational level as courses are moved online; and paper ballots and in-person voting.

I’m not sure we as a society even realize what a devil’s bargain we’re making with technology. When every bit of human knowledge is converted to bits and bytes stored on a server somewhere that depends on a constant supply of electricity, and nothing is left in physical form, what happens when the power goes out? I am not a doomsday person by nature, but I can see where this is headed and it scares me.

Some will say that fire and flood can wipe out repositories of human knowledge just as well, as happened at the Library of Alexandria, and I have to agree. But the totality of the digital shift is what really concerns me. It all depends on electricity. Not one single scrap of it can be retrieved or used without the juice.

There’s nothing any one person can do to stem the tide, so I suppose the only rational response is to be careful about backing up your critical data and keep physical records of your life if having records at all is important to you. Get those favorite pictures on your phone or computer printed and pasted into an album. Keep a written check/debit transaction register. File those cards and letters away in a safe place. Get a land line in case you happen to leave your cell phone on top of your car and drive away (I know people who have done it).

And while we’re at it, maybe use that phone to call your friends once in a while, instead of forcing the friendship to survive on a perpetual diet of Facebook and Twitter and texts. Don’t let your relationships become the next victims.

With that said, I shall now dismount my digital soapbox and go check in with my friends on Facebook. 🙂

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One thought on “Mourning the digital slaughter

  1. Pingback: I hate Newsweek for going digital | Going Forward

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