It’s easier and faster than ever for us to travel great distances. On the other hand, diseases and epidemics spread faster and farther nowadays too. Plus, we have species invasion in the Everglades and elsewhere, causing great damage to the ecosystem. If easy international travel hadn’t been developed, many of these problems would not be occurring. It’s all part of the technology trade-off.
Is it satisfying to get your news over the computer? For many, the answer is yes. Me, I prefer real ink and paper. But many folks are content with pixels and screens. The result is traditional newspaper readership has fallen greatly this century.
Fewer newspapers are being published. Those still publishing have often cut back. The USA Today, for instance, has reduced its page count by 14.3% in the past two years.
The Valley News has one less Sunday section than it had a year ago.
Likewise, in the past year, the Eagle Times reduced the page count of its weekend issue. It also eliminated its Monday print edition.
To maintain readership levels, newspapers increasingly focus on digital involvement. But digital readers and ads are far less profitable than print readers and ads. The papers can trumpet their digital readership all they want, but it’s not going to pay the bills. They need print readers and advertisers to survive.
Sometimes all they need is funding, but that’s becoming harder to find.
Over in New Jersey, The Daily Targum, published Monday through Friday when Rutgers University is in session, gets funded primarily by a student tax. Ever since the paper became independent from the school — in 1980 — the students have voted on that tax every third year.
Earlier this year the student body, for the first time, denied any funding at all to the newspaper. The tax would have brought in about $540,000. It’s a big newspaper, at one point publishing about 10,000 copies per issue. Many reporters, photographers and editors in the field today got their training in the Targum’s newsroom.
More students voted for the tax than against it, but the result wasn’t determined by Yes vs. No. It was determined by whether the Yes votes would reach a predetermined number, and the Yeses were not numerous enough. Roughly 70% of the students did not vote at all.
The voting process, which ran all of April, was complicated. Any student with fewer than 105 credits was eligible to vote. To pass, 25% of eligible students needed to support the referendum. If it passed, $11.25 would have been added to each student’s term bill — and any student requesting a refund of that amount would receive it.
The referendum failed. So The Daily Targum, which began publishing in 1869, is struggling financially. The first tangible result of that struggle came last month when it eliminated its Friday edition.
Rutgers students have become less enthusiastic about newspapers — unless the news arrives via computer or smartphone.
Ah yes, telephones.
I remember before there were cellphones. We somehow survived. Then along came cellphones, which made it possible to talk constantly to almost anyone from just about anywhere. The trade-off is that we’re squandering more of our limited lifespan on the telephone.
I can’t imagine anybody on their death bed regretting that they hadn’t spent more time on a telephone or cellphone.
Another seldom-mentioned trade-off: Now that most folks have their own individual phones, we seldom speak to the families of our friends.
Used to be, I would call my best friend, and either he or his wife or one of their kids would answer. Whoever answered, I would talk to. Eventually I would get around to asking for my friend.
Those days are fading. Now you dial the number for that individual. You bypass the family entirely. Lots of families no longer even have a family phone.
The result is that I feel I have become a stranger to my friend’s family.
Only once in the past couple years have I even spoken to my friend’s wife. As for my friend’s kids, it’s been even longer. Haven’t spoken to my sister-in-law in years. All because everyone in the family now has their own phone number.
If you do call a family phone, you might be asked, “Why are you calling on this number?”
Suppose you’re a kid with grandparents. You used to dial one number to get them both . Now you might have to choose — should I phone grandma or grandpa? Will the one I don’t dial feel slighted?
Every change or “advance” in society comes with a trade-off to us consumers.
(If you have consumerism questions, send them to Arthur Vidro care of this newspaper, which publishes his column every weekend.)