Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

A2 News, RIP

May 2009

By Mike Gould


Aaaiiieeeeee! The Ann Arbor News is having its plug pulled, and the whole information-on-paper thing seems headed the way of the floppy disk, dial phone and cassette deck. Dang.

As a time capsule-candidate letter to the future, here is a note to those who will read this online (or whatever online evolves into) at some distant point in the years to come, from someone who was there when the media axis tilted and everything changed.

Dear Futurians:

Once upon a time, aeons ago, things were different. We didn't absorb information through our pores from the Interplanetary System-Wide MetaSphere: no, we relied on physically handling ground-up cellulose ("paper") with information impregnated upon it via a substance called "ink". Here's how it worked: you would come "home" (old term for domicile station) at the end of a work period and retrieve an information distribution module device: a rolled-up wad of this "paper" bound in a loop of tree-sap ("rubber band") from an area near your airlock ("door"). This information distribution module device was called a "newspaper".

Once inside, you would plop down on a reclination support unit ("sofa") and, extricating the device from its loop (possibly augmented by a sanitary container called a "plastic bag"), you would unroll the device and hold it in front of your face. Your eyes would then perform a procedure called "reading" whereby they would scan back and forth over the surface of the device and knowledge, data, and sometimes (rarely) wisdom would flow into your brain, and you would have your event-monitoring requirement fulfilled.

This sort of procedure was carried out for hundreds of orbits ("centuries") in the early time periods of the Pre-Space era. Sometimes the procedure happened in the morning, accompanied by drinking a bitter brew ("java") and eating circular pastry substances ("sinkers").

I know it all sounds unbelievably primitive, but for a long time it was all we had and we liked it that way. A battalion of workers labored to gather the information, take pictures of it, massage it into digestible pieces ("articles") and physically deliver it through rain, snow, and dark of night (a planetary phenomenon called "weather").

Then things started to change. A primitive forerunner of the Interplanetary System-Wide MetaSphere called the "WWW" (World-Wide-WhizBang) evolved from the random collections of dataMungers ("computers") scattered around the planet, and events began to be chronicled there. In a relatively short space of time (less than 20 orbits), everything in the wired-up world changed as a result. The ease and utility by which information could be moved about and presented digitally made the physical movement ("schlepping") of cellulose delivery uneconomical, and "paper" as a distribution means began to fade.

There were exceptions to this in that another form of data sharing called "magazines" hung on for tens of orbits after this. Delivered on a "monthly" (one-twelfth of an orbit) basis, specialty magazines fulfilled the human need for tactile enjoyment and physical data-holding. As the digital readers ("monitors") of the time were not yet portable enough for comfortable data-scanning, "magazines" and another means of presentation, "books", continued the physical tradition of "reading".

At the time of the local "newspapers" demise, great strides were being made in the complete digitization of all current media, including primitive in-domicile entertainment presenters ("BoobToob"), in-situ mass bogglement ("movies"), and tonal arrangement creators ("Miley Cyrus"). But it was a time of transition, and many suffered as the paradigms shifted.

The cellulose sub-sets ("pages") of the dying media were filled with wailing and lamentations by their consumers, as all feared the coming lack of their favorite features. Especially affected were the followers of aggressive sod management ("sports"), hive-related agglomeration behaviors ("community events") and incisive ethos analysis ("comics"). All these issues were addressed in various ways as events unfolded, and the transition careened its way across the habits and lifestyles of those involved.

But it should be pointed out that not everyone made it across the time of changes. Some, including the very poor, the keyboard-challenged, and the downright cranky, gave up on information entirely. These poor bypassed individuals continued to rely on communal dispersement means ("rumors") and the quickly-dying analog means of learning (see "BoobToob", above) for personal information enrichment. Those who didn't have the financial means of being part of the shared consensual dataflow ("Internet") could still tap in at publicly-funded databanks ("libraries"). But all agreed this was a lot less satisfactory than having a data procurement facilitator ("delivery person") show up at one's domicile with a freshly-bagged wad of cellulose. It wasn't until after larger data-readers were perfected and freely distributed that things calmed down.

Consumers of data ("subscribers") of that day were a battered lot when the changeovers occurred. They had seen their cellulose-based information decrease with each passing issue. By the time the information transition occurred, the loop of tree sap was hanging loose around a pathetic collection of local trivia, food advertisements and closing announcements. In contrast, the new online data disbursement center ("website") was a wonder of colorful commentary, accompanied by animations of dancing baloney and singing car ads.

As wonderful as all this became, complaints continued well into the digital age, as old-timers reminisced about how great things used to be in the days before the ones and zeroes invaded and changed everything.

Part of the above data mediation process involved a group of workers called "writers". These people were called upon to explain complex situations and events in small data applets ("words") so that everyone else could understand the current concepts. The more adept and handsome of these incredibly well-paid individuals would create elaborate story-scenarios to make their points, making the world a better place in the process. These people, fortunately, survived well into the future, where their efforts can still be found via the Interplanetary System-Wide MetaSphere.

For more information, point your metasphere-omnibrowser to keywords: history, media, wisenheimer.

Mike Gould, is a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Consulting/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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