There is a scene in the Steven Spielberg film “Minority Report” where John Anderton (played by Tom Cruise), on the run from the law, is riding on a subway, and a man in another seat is reading the newspaper. Of course it’s not one of today’s newspapers – it’s a future newspaper, made from some sort of e-paper. In a shot over the man’s shoulder, the ink on the paper changes – in real time – to a news alert warning citizens to look out for the dangerous criminal John Anderton.
It’s a lovely, brilliant, totally paranoid moment, effective in the way we’ve come to expect from Spielberg. Not only is our hero’s world falling apart, but even the newspapers are changing, like shifting shadows in a graveyard, closing in on him more tightly every minute. The effect is rather like the feeling of paranoia evoked by Fritz Lang in a much earlier film – “M” – as the entire world gradually closes in on Peter Lorre’s fugitive sociopath.
Some of us – at least for now – still read the paper on paper. I realize that we are dwindling in number. Those of us who still wait for the thump of paper against door every morning, who turn pages as we sip our morning coffee, are relics of a time fast disappearing. We are as ghosts, holding on to a simpler time when it was actually acceptable to read about what happened yesterday and refer to this as “news”.
Of course the new generation that receives its news on iPhones, Blackberries and various netbooks would be appalled by the thought of getting such old news, already hours out of date by the time it is read. In today’s world this is the informational equivalent of eating yesterday’s guacamole. Alas, one man’s New York Times morning edition is another man’s stale avocado.
I suppose I am holding out for sentimental reasons, for reasons having to do with fond memories of going through the Sunday Times at my parents’ house on lazy mornings years ago, of how the weekend paper spread out across the kitchen table came to stand for family itself, for that safe feeling of being at home with people who really know you, like pajamas and orange juice and Cheerios you could eat one by one right from the box.
But I know that this idea of the New York Times is fast disappearing. In another five years or so, eBook readers will all be selling for well under the “magic price point” of $100, and then they will be made available at no cost, like cell phones, included in every yearly plan that offers the latest eNovels and ePeriodicals.
If you lose your reader, you’ll just pick up another, without thinking about it. Or as Liam Sternberg wrote so memorably in 1986 “You drop your drink then they bring you more”. In other words, that scene from “Minority Report” will soon be the universal reality.
And what of this soon to be absurd lifestyle of mine, this quaint way of being that seems so natural to me now, of reading yesterday’s events with my morning coffee, rather than an everchanging panorama of up-to-the-minute digitally refreshed info?
Pretty soon yesterday’s news will be, well, yesterday’s news. And reading about what happened a day earlier will no longer be called news.
It will be called nostalgia.