Sitting at an eatery recently, I looked around and saw many of us using smartphones and tablets as we waited for service. I was reading Dan’s Papers on my Kindle (yes, I really was) when I noticed a little bug, genus unknown, traveling across my table.
And that’s when it happened. A flash of total awareness blazed through my brain. One of those rare moments when you fully realize your life has collided with a profound instant in human history and you are witness to a transition after which neither your life nor your world will ever be the same.
I’ve experienced this twice before. The first time, I was 8 years old. The teachers called us in from recess early. They were all crying. They called our mothers, because all mothers were home then, who came to get us, and they were all crying. As we drove home, I saw the traffic cop openly crying as he directed traffic. President Kennedy had been shot. I didn’t understand what it all meant, but even as a little girl I could see the impact of the event and I knew everything would be different now.
The second time I knew I was witnessing history was standing in my boyfriend’s living room on July 20, 1969 and witnessing the moon landing.
I knew I was experiencing a profound moment in history when I almost used my expensive Kindle to swat a bug whose lifespan wouldn’t go past sunset. What, you say? You built up my hopes for some spectacular revelation and you compare the JFK assassination and the moon landing to swatting a bug? No. I am illustrating that I was prepared to use my Kindle to kill the bug like I would have used a newspaper, something that would never occur to my daughter’s generation. I am trying to apply old uses to new technology. Like when cars were new technology and people had difficulty steering until they remembered that unlike the horse, the car can’t see where it’s going.
The paper newspaper is slowly going the way of the horsedrawn carriage. Soon the word “newspaper” will be a misnomer. When I asked my 6-year-old granddaughter to find me some old newspaper to clean fish, she responded, “What’s old new paper? Why don’t you use old paper?” She didn’t know what newspaper was. I was going to hit her in the face with the fish for making me feel old, but trout falls apart too easily.
So here are some things our grandchildren will never know. Like the buggy whip, newspapers will only live in books. Newspapers pass secret info between spies on trolley cars. Newspapers wipe the gum off the gumshoe. Kidnappers cut and paste ransom notes from newspapers. Detectives sit in hotel lobbies peering over the top of carefully positioned newspapers.
On a domestic level, newspapers housebreak puppies and rolled newspapers strike fear in the hearts of dogs. Folded newspapers struck against the back of thick skulls get the attention of teen boys. Newspapers lined birdcages. Newspapers were stuffed info wet leather shoes to prevent them from shrinking as they dried. Newspaper, water and flour made paper mâché for thousands of school projects. Newspapers stuffed into boots kept legs warmer.
Oh, and we used newspapers the way we use tablets today, to set coffee on so you don’t get wet rings on the table.