HASHTAG, America — It is comforting to think of death as a passing rather than an end. In that vein, I prefer to think of Steve Jobs' final words as editorial commentary: “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”
If the Afterlife were unpleasant, wouldn't he have said something more profane?
Similarly, I have forced myself to think of the last print edition of Newsweek magazine as a transition rather than yet more evidence of The Death of Print. The last hard copy, which left the presses a few days ago, is merely the magazine's passing from this life to the next.
Dust to dust; paper to digital?
It isn't quite as poetic as our earth-to-heaven transmogrification, but it will have to do. What's the alternative? We printosaurs can mourn the loss of our medium, or we can frolic in fresh clover. Or so “they” — the blogger-Twitter hordes — keep telling us.
Still. Frolic as we may, the celebrate-new-media prescription falls short of palliative. This is because, notwithstanding the obvious benefits of new vehicles for old passengers, there is something uniquely sublime about print that has nothing to do with content. Hard copy is a full-on sensory experience.
Yes, the words are the same, whether perceived on paper or on a small, illuminated screen. But the experience is not. One can read “One Hundred Years of Solitude” on a Kindle or an iPad, but one cannot see, hear, feel and smell the story in the same way. I'm unlikely to race to the sofa, there to nuzzle an electronic gizmo, with the same anticipation as with a book. Or to the hammock with the same relish I would with a new magazine. Somehow, napping with a gadget blinking notice of its dwindling power doesn't hold the same appeal as falling asleep in the hammock with your paperback opened to where you dozed off.
This is not mysterious. Paper, because it is real, provides an organic connection to our natural world: The tree from whence the paper came; the sun, water and soil that nourished the tree. By contrast, a digital device is alien, man-made, hard and cold to human flesh.