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Lamenting decline of the daily newspaper

Who among us doesn’t remember HAL, the ever-so-human, laid-back computer that oversaw every function of the spaceship and crew in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece movie of Arthur Clarke’s book, 2001?

Although computers were in their infancy when the movie came out 40 years ago, HAL’s obsequious, your-wish-is-my-command digital persona that became increasingly paranoid and sabotaged the space mission, only heightened the image of technology gone awry fostered in earlier sci-fi stories such as “War of the Worlds” and “I Robot,” and the late ’60s TV series, “Star Trek.”

Few could have imagined the extent to which computers and a vast array of digital devices would become a part of our lives, or how dependent on them we would be, or the adverse impacts that would occur along with the benefits.

Who could have foreseen the increased efficiencies in manufacturing, for example, resulting in greater and better production of everything from airplanes and automobiles to such pedestrian items as paper clips and socks?

But the downside of this progress was the human toll in jobs displaced. Bank tellers were replaced by ATMs; supermarket checkers were replaced by automated laser scanners; pump-your-own gas stations eliminated service personnel; automated telephone customer service departments took the place of human helpers; and on and on.

Could anyone have imagined as few as 10 years ago that digital cameras would obsolete the film that had been a part of our lives for a century and turn one of the world’s great companies, Eastman Kodak, into a virtual non-entity?

Toss in all the economic and competitive pressures that businesses must contend with nowadays to try and survive, and the resultant alterations/diminishment of long-standing services often lead one to wonder if a malevolent HAL is not lurking in the background.

This exercise in woolgathering is occasioned by the notice by the Memphis Commercial Appeal daily newspaper that, as of Oct. 16, it would cease all delivery in our city and many others around the Mid-South. Options are to receive it by mail, which sorta negates the concept of a daily newspaper, or to subscribe to the electronic edition.

The paper, which traces back to the mid-1800s, in its heyday served a broad geographic area of the Mid-South states, and maintained bureaus in Jackson, Miss., Little Rock, Ark., several Tennessee cities, and Washington, D.C. One almost needed a forklift for the Sunday paper, which had numerous fat, feature and news-laden sections, and its own excellent staff-produced magazine. Chock full of ads, it was reputed to be the most profitable newspaper in the Scripps Howard chain.

In recent years, as advertising and readership declined and the Internet dished up a cornucopia of news 24/7, the Commercial Appeal dwindled to a mere shadow of its former self (as have numerous other daily papers).

I grew up reading the paper, and have kept the daily habit all these years. I don’t know, though, if I’ll continue with the electronic version. Somehow, reading the news on a computer screen just isn’t the same as holding the paper in one’s hands, turning the pages one by one, and tearing out articles to pass along or file (or using crumpled pages for packing material).


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