By Katrina Marks
Every morning for over 70 years, my grandmother has turned the coffee maker on, poured coffee into her Mackinaw Bridge mug and sat down at the breakfast table to peruse the daily newspaper.
However, several years ago, she found the surface of that table blank. It was then that the daily newspaper of Grand Rapids, Mich.—The Grand Rapids Press—reduced its print distribution to only three days a week. In the years since, the publication has been diluting the content and scope of the printed news while promoting and expanding its website.
And this trend is not limited to my sleepy hometown in western Michigan. On Oct. 18, it was reported by The Detroit Free Press that Newsweek would suspend its print edition in favor of a totally digitalized version to be available in 2013. The publication follows the trend of various others—such as Wall Street Journal finance magazine SmartMoney which made its announcement in June, US News & World Report which made the shift in 2010 and The Christian Science Monitor, which in 2009 became the first national publication to replace its daily print edition with a website.
The 2010 census data also shows that revenue from newspaper publications—excluding web-based news publications—was at a six-year low while revenue from internet information distribution systems was at a six-year high.
For those of us with a minimum of five news apps on our various smart phones and tablets—not to mention the innumerable sources available with a few words typed into the Google search bar—this development is not a problem. On the contrary, it is more convenient. Why would I wait a week or a month to get my news when I can get minute-by-minute updates on Twitter? Why would I carry around—and pay for—a stack of feeble, ink-stained papers when I could read the same number of pages on a glossy screen?
Because I survive on food stamps and can’t afford to pay for a computer—much less Internet service. Because, even if there is a public location with free access to both computers and Internet, I cannot give up hours at work to go to those places. Because I was born before computers were even imagined, and I have never learned to use one. Because I have arthritis and I can no longer use my fingers to type the address into the Internet browser.
It may be hard to believe, but everyone does not have an iPhone. In fact, as of the 2010 census, 41 percent of the Philadelphia population reports not owning a computer. And though there are opportunities for free access to computers and Internet in places such as the Free Library of Philadelphia, open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends, issues such as health and work hours prevent certain demographic groups from taking advantage of them.
The data become even more specific when dealing with the older generation. On a national level, the Pew Internet Report published in June this year indicates that only 34 percent of people over the age of 75 have adopted regular use of the Internet, and only 21 percent have access to home broadband Internet.
For anyone who has gone a day or a week without technology, the disconnection from society is a vivid reality. Rarely do we wish to be bombarded by more economic data and election opinions, yet when they are gone, we take notice.
The way my own grandparents engage in this November’s election clearly displays the symptoms of this situation. As they prepare to fill out their absentee ballots, they can identify the gaps in their knowledge of political issues. Rather than researching the platforms available on the candidates’ websites and the journalistic commentary and development on those platforms, they are left with what information can be gathered from the more forceful factions who tout whichever statistics support their cause through pamphlets and television commercials.
While the presidential candidates may not be as poignant an example considering the questionable objectivity in media dealing with them, information on issues such as proposals—for which relatively clear cut pros and cons are laid out—is often misconstrued or incomplete when gathered only from the groups supporting or opposing those proposals.
Thus, we are left with a portion of society who finds it very difficult to become informed voters—informed citizens. In a world where the acquiring of information is becoming based more on ease than on presentation, those with a preference for paper are finding themselves lost in the storm of bytes and bits which make up our societal reality.