Print media in the digital age

Fri, 08/24/2018 - 10:30am

While taking a Mass Media course in graduate school, we had a professor who had a mesmerizing voice and an easy manner — a Mister Rogers for adults. He had a soothing tonality that could send us into a relaxing alpha state or a deep sleep; however, his class was so interesting that we were all leaning forward and on full alert noting well and absorbing every word this guy was saying. It was one of the most engaging graduate courses I’ve ever taken — the focus of our studies dealt with the “Information Age.” The time we are currently living in has morphed into the “Computer Age,” or “Digital Age.” We’ve gone from the Industrial revolution to the technological revolution and there in no turning back the clock on this rapidly changing period in our history — I’m not sure if this is good or bad.

I was taking this course in the summer of 1985, and my professor had worked in commercial radio and journalism. He was very aware of how fast this age of information was changing. In one class he mentioned Moore’s Law, which had to do with transistors. This law basically states that computer technology doubles every two years. (Google this). The short hand of Moore’s Law is that products delivering information for consumers get smaller and faster. At the time of this course computers were housed in the library at URI and you had to sign up to use one. At that time I had no idea what a computer even looked like; nor did I care. I was a book guy — still am.

In this course we discussed and examined reliable sources of information as opposed to Yellow or Tabloid Journalism. (There is a difference between the New York Times and The Enquirer — catch my drift?) The class fostered and encouraged us to look for reliable sources when we saw facts used in any context: weights, measures, and statistics. We learned to ask how numbers were generated; it forced us to think critically — seek out data sources — and not base conclusions on faulty reasoning and hasty generalizations. This kind of critical thinking is how science works. Science corrects itself by shuffling from one hypothesis to another — to prove or disprove something. My favorite quote by Neil deGrasse Tyson is “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether you believe it or not.” Whether we’re ingesting information in a print or digital format we must be vigilant so we don’t get mislead — this requires work.

I remember our professor giving us current numbers on the intake of cash, for the growing video game market. At the time the big games were Pong and Pac Man — these games were on the Block Island ferries. The numbers were staggering. Now while this video game thing was going on some very high IQs from Stanford, MIT and Harvard were crunching their own numbers and developing “Information Age” products that we see today, i.e. the computer and smartphone. And, these guys and their respective pals made some serious Silicon Valley scoots. We can thank guys like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, et al, for these information delivery systems. Or, maybe we curse them for said inventions. Just sayin’.

These days we can access information so quickly our heads spin. News cycles seem to stomp on top of each other because of the use of Twitter and social media. Propaganda can be spun on a moment’s notice. Inaccurate information is rampant on the internet — one must read closely to become well informed. Even Facebook has become politicized to the point of absurdity. Regarding said Facebook, I think it’s a great scrapbook with a timeline for noting fun memories, but, it has become something else. Currently, we are seeing that there are consequences for this platform and its owners for becoming something, else. There are always consequences when technological invention precedes law. Given all of this we are seeing that there is a price to these seemingly brilliant tools for the Digital Age. Moreover, I find myself reading more torn, tattered, and annotated books to escape the minutiae and nonsense on the internet — but I still love doggie, sailboat, and grandkid pictures.

Recently, an old school friend named Pat Cobb stopped by the car shack and gave me a slew of copies of the old Block Island newspaper called The Ocean View. Charlie Gale started this paper back in January 1976. I remember Gale scouting for news down at the ferry — I was working on the Quonset at the time. The first edition — the price was 20 cents — gave a nod to island Nurse Mary Donnelly for being “Woman of the Year.” (Attagirl, Mary!) This first edition was a test flight for the paper to see if it was a feasible endeavor. The six editions Pat gave were a relaxing blast — from a simpler time — to read in their tattered glory. Here is a sampling of the content. Town Clerk, Edie Blane’s name was at the bottom of a Public Hearing where stipulations on windmills were on the docket. School Principal Tom McCabe was mentioned in regards to provide a “Lists of approved text books.” Ed McGovern wrote a sports column and also expounded on the merits of yoga. He also did noteworthy coverage of the Block Island pantathalon. (See Ed about this series of events.)

There was an announcement of a seal census. Andy Transue had an ad for “Earthmoving, Septic Systems, Demolition.” Finally, I think Charlie was on to something with his paper — and created the concept of The Block Island Factor. Finally, if you want to learn more about this moment in time, you’ll be able to see these papers at the Block Island Historical Society — print media lives!