Thursday, May 17, 2007

We’re Way Beyond Not Being in Kansas Anymore

Our Town downtown
November 13, 2006

Jack O’Shea is the guy the Chicago Tribune is sending to its paper-in-difficulty, The Los Angeles Times, to see if he can keep it together in the midst of declining readership, or figure a way to remake the paper for the new-and-getting-newer (you gotta’ say exponentially so) media world. He doesn’t promise miracles. He told the Tribune, ‘We’re all stumbling around in shifting sands. The business model is changing under our feet.’

No kidding. Don’t you feel that way, about all sorts of things? Stumbling. Shifting. Maybe it was those planes with passengers in them torpedoing the sides of the World Trade Center that shook our world and has it still rumbling beneath us. Or maybe it was a lot of things in the last few years. I think that’s it; it is a lot of things in addition to the planes crashing into us. Even in addition to Iraq. We’ve sped a long way from even not being in Kansas anymore.

First. Computers have changed the landscape, the office, school, home. If I look out of my office which I’m doing right now with one eye at the main office floor with writers and editors and salespeople and distribution people and graphics people, they’re all looking at the computers on their desks. For a break they (we) all check e-mail and some sites that matter to us. That’s a lot of time in front of a little screen. If we saw such a world in a sci-fi movie we’d find it sterile and scary. At night we watch another screen till sleep time when we’re increasingly finding it difficult to sleep.

Cell phones are more a watershed than the computer maybe. Think about it. They’re an illusion of course. We aren’t as close to home, or to each other, as we think.

Steroids have us hesitating to have heroes. Plastic surgery is redefining what we see in another person. Viagra is redefining something too (Maybe there is a time to just hang it up.)

HBO, TiVo, iPods, Blackberries, satellite radio, digital cameras, phone cameras, blogs, Netflix. It’s all come fast. Faster than ever before. You pick up the phone to call the Marriott here to make reservations for your parents who are coming for a long weekend next month and you get a voice—a nice voice no doubt—who you so know is in India that you don’t even bother to ask anymore. How could the business model not be changing under our feet? The newspapers where we’ve always kept up with changes are changing themselves. Soon the Times pages size will be as small as the Albany paper. The Wall Street Journal is trimming its size too. Do you even know what Google is up to? Wikipedia? What should I do with my red Random House College Dictionary Revised Edition that has a page up front with a list of editors who maybe taught at the University of Chicago or Johns Hopkins or Columbia. These were older guys. The Google guys and the Wikipedia guys are younger guys. Should I keep my red dictionary, in case the lights go out or a fuse blows? I think I will. But that may just be me. My kids if they still have dictionaries I gave them over the years probably couldn’t lay their hand on them. Should I give them a set of Wikipedia for Christmas? Shouldn’t every house have a set? That’s becoming a long-time-ago notion, like Kansas. And there’s no going back. That’s why Jack O’Shea knows to make no promises.

-- Bill Gunlocke

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