The Daily Digest
by Gerry Boyle '78
"This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper."
-T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men
Apologies probably are due Thomas Stearns Eliot, but at the breakfast table the other morning I found myself thinking of his oft-quoted line. The daily paper was spread about, and because it was a Monday (a thin paper after the weekend advertising, news staff stretched, too) I'd read every column inch in that day's edition, from page one to the classified ads and back again. And my tea still was hot.
So I said to the person with whom I live: "Not a lot in the paper today." She says, with a nod to her laptop, at the end of the table, "Well, we could just read it online."
And I say, "No way. We have to get the paper." Which is what I always say. After all, I spent 18 years in the newsroom. And every day for pretty much my whole literate life has started with the local newspaper on the breakfast table. But this time for a millisecond, or maybe it was a nanosecond, I didn't reply. And then I gathered up my discussion-ending retort. Until next time.
If it had continued we could have noted that reading it online would save us a couple of hundred bucks. And do we really need to read the police blotter (yes, we do!) classified ads (I do enjoy the personals and lost and found)? And if you read it online you don't have to pull on a parka and boots at 6 on a snowy winter morning and trudge down to the road to get the newspaper from the tube by the telephone pole. And what about all the trees we could save from being ground up for newsprint? And when we go away, we wouldn't have to ask a neighbor to collect the papers so we can go through them upon our return.
To which I say, yeah, yeah, yeah. We still need to get the newspaper.
But for the first time, there was a flicker of consideration of the possibility. If that moment is extended each time the discussion comes up, will there be a time when I actually cave? Will this domino fall as did all the others in our personal technological evolution, things I opposed that are now part of our lives: cable TV, internet, wireless, a TV in the bedroom?
And if somebody like me doesn't get the news in print, who will?
Newspaper companies probably have this all mapped out in their business plans. They've given up on me before I've given up on myself. And maybe this is okay. After all, my children don't subscribe to newspapers. (Well, one does get the Sunday New York Times delivered) and they're educated, keep up with the news (especially national and international), and read more online than I do at the breakfast table.
But even if this is the future I don't want to contemplate it. Not yet. I don't look forward to a time when breakfast isn't punctuated by pithy comments regarding the day's events, the state of the economy, and the patter of conversation over toast and tea, like, "You through with the sports?"
A laptop breakfast would be, by comparison, a dull affair, silent but for the chewing.
Gerry Boyle '78 was a staffer at the Morning Sentinel from 1980 to 1999, spending most of his career as an at-large columnist. He is editor of Colby magazine and creator of a series of crime novels featuring an ex- New York Times reporter named Jack McMorrow. His writing life is chronicled at gerryboyle.com