Should We Let the Printed Form Lie or Die?

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The blue plastic bag. The smudged gray fingers. The sweet smell of ink and paper. All of the evidence points to a taboo by today’s standards: a print version of The New York Times.

When I started my career, a copy of The New York Times made the journey with me to my desk every day. Learning to fold “the paper” into quarters and reading it on the subway was a rite of passage for me as a native New Yorker. I’m dating myself by saying this, but it’s not like the internet didn’t exist back then too. In fact, there was a website for nearly every publication I wanted to read. But my copy of The Times offered something more than that.

In full transparency, I no longer pick up a print copy of the newspaper. I use my iPhone to consume the news. By 8 a.m. I’ve already read through dozens of articles, caught up on email and scrolled through all my social feeds–a habit which continues throughout the day. I’m connected and in the know for my every waking hour.

According to Deloitte’s 2017 Global Mobile Consumer Survey, we “consult our phones a staggering number of times (47) a day. All 264 million US smartphone users collectively look at their phones some 12 billion times a day,” showing that I am not alone.

We’re connected while we work and while we shop. We use our smartphones while we watch our favorite shows, when we rest our heads to go to sleep and when we wake up in the morning (and 48% of survey respondents in the Deloitte report said they check their phones in the middle of the night).

How would you respond to the above? Do you wish your responses were different?

But what does it mean that 47% of survey respondents said they try to reduce/limit their smartphone usage by keeping their phones in their bags/pockets, deleting apps, or turning off audio notifications? Do we need a break? What gives?

To bring it back to my first point, I love print. I have an emotional connection to it that dates back to my childhood, but after re-subscribing to “The Weekender” from The New York Times a couple of months ago, I realized that print offers us a moment to stop and focus. To go deep. To immerse ourselves in a select few items rather than just scratch the surface by reading hundreds of headlines.

I’m not willing to disconnect and miss out on the informing, inspiring, wonderful and interesting digital content out there, but I also don’t want to miss out on the benefits of “silent reading,” or as cognitive neuroscientist Mary Wolfe puts it, “the secret gift of time to think.”

When I reflect on the content formats that are on the rise, they all have things in common with print newspaper. Take podcasting for instance, which is typically 20+ minutes of uninterrupted time between the listener and the storyteller. Or bingeing on a TV series, which can offer anywhere from a few minutes to days of immersion in a storyline.

2016 data from Pew Research Center showed that 65% of Americans reported reading a printed book in the past year, compared to only 28% who read an e-book. We saw a global colored pencil shortage in 2016 due to the rise of adult coloring books… I think we’re on to something.

So if you have a chance this weekend, give print another try. Pick up a paper book, a newspaper, a magazine. Listen to a podcast. Immerse yourself in a documentary. Color (yes I said it). Use a part of your brain that you don’t use every day and see how it feels. Turn away from that device and pick up something tactile. In today’s world, it’s one of the only ways to turn down the digital noise (and screen brightness).

In other words, I vote to let print lie. That is not to say that I use it in the same way a thirty-something used it 20 years ago, but there’s still a time and a place where the medium has both an impact and a purpose.

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