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Moveable Media

Around 1450, Johannes Gutenberg had his first moveable-type printing press in operation.  It has been widely hailed as one of the most significant inventions of all time.  Because of it, the Age of Enlightenment, the beginning of the scientific era, and mass communication were possible.  Education of multitudes became available on a scale previously unimaginable.  The concept of the book had its beginning, the Bible being one of the first and still the most widely read book in the history of the world.

Who would have ever imagined the printing press would pass from existence?  Its declining days were barely noted except by those involved in the publishing profession.  The electron replaced moveable type and now we are on the verge of another seismic shift:  the disappearance of printed periodicals.

 On December 31, Newsweek magazine published its last print issue. All future editions will be through some type of electronic media.  If you want a hard copy in the hand, it will be the reader’s choice to print it.  By February Tina Brown, the editor, promises a wonderful new experience.  We shall see.  Newsweek has been available for e-readers for several years and, while it is convenient, it has been decidedly clunky. Instead of pictures being captioned in a place that is relevant to the text, they appear randomly throughout the article, often at the end with nothing but an attribution of who took the photo.  The reader is left to guess who the person is or the significance of the picture.

I have predicted previously the demise of the newspaper, as we now know it.  It no longer delivers news; we have instantaneously gotten that long before any copy editor picked it up from a wire service. There may end up being a half dozen or so national papers, each with a local office that can add in the recipes, local sports, and obituaries along with the advertising so necessary for the paper’s sustainability.

Several months ago The Roanoke-Star Sentinel changed its name to, signaling a growing focus toward the cyber world.  Starting this week, the print issue will be produced only on the 2nd and 4th Friday with stories posted and updated daily online.

 When all newspapers are online, as I suspect they will be, I will miss my morning trek to the curb, reading the headlines while trudging up the driveway, and then snapping the wrinkles out of the double sheet as I sit down with coffee and check out the news of the day.  The paper delivery system will soon have gone the way of the Pony Express rider.

 Time marches on.  The e-reader is a marvel.  I have been using one for several years and still amazed that I can download a book in five seconds.  You can carry an entire library in one hand while texting and driving at the same time, a multitasking that has claimed numerous lives.

 Many of us have houses that are overrun with books, old magazines, and tons of newsprint (please recycle).  It is refreshing to ramble through the collection and pick up a copy of The History of Romantic Period.  I did just that the other day when looking up a quote from Lord Byron.  The book, over 50 years old, has an aroma of adventure when it is opened.  Out jumped memories of the professor who taught the course, of the papers I wrote in response to his assignments, and the students with whom I sat, many of them now long dead. I don’t think I will ever get those emotions from an e-reader.  I paid $6.50 for that text, over 500 pages, and it will last another 50 years or longer.  Will my e-reader still silently flash into life in 2063?  Not likely.  Last week a friend of mine showed me his current college text for a statistics course:  Paperback, maybe 250 pages, and a cost of $165.  Now even the printed textbook is on the endangered list and at that price, maybe it should be.

 When we get around to culling our literary collections because of lack of space, here’s a suggestion:   Don’t donate them to some charitable organization.  Save at least the relevant ones in shrink wrap for your great grandchildren.  Books will, in a century, become valuable relics of an age we thought would never end.  The printed page— may it rest in peace.

 Hayden Hollingsworth

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