I'm "Old School", Too

Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Sunday's "Hi and Lois" comic strip (courtesy of King Features Syndicate)

I love being educated when I least expect it and this Sunday's edition of the Hi and Lois comic strip did not disappoint me. In the 8-panel strip seen above, Hirum 'Hi' Flagston announces to his family members that he is heading out to the local market to buy a copy of the Sunday newspaper.  When he tells his wife Lois, she gives him an automatic "that's nice" response while typing away on her desktop computer.  When he walks down the hallway, he informs the twins of his plans and they give similar nonchalant replies while engrossed in their portable electronic devices (a laptop computer and some sort of tablet device).  As he heads out the door, he tells his older son Chip, who is lying on the couch with a laptop, what he's doing and gets a somewhat ageist--although authentic teenaged-- comment in return ("so old school").

For the next four panels, we see the family patriarch in various stages of his journey.  While performing this time-consuming task, Hi interacts with a neighbor mowing his yard, pets a dog out for a walk with some children, sits down at a local eatery to work on the crossword puzzle with cup of coffee, and soaks in the natural surroundings on his return route.  The final panel show him entering the house and telling Chip that he still appreciates all of the activities that haven't been replicated online.

I've addressed this strip in a previous entry here and I'm starting to ponder the mindset of the new authors (Brian and Greg Walker, sons of Mort Walker who also created Beetle Bailey) and their commentary on modern society.  As that February strip pointed out, Hi is not a 'Luddite' and sees a need for technology in both his professional and personal lives.  However, he is also a 'traditionalist' who is comfortable with the "old school" ways of getting his daily dose of news and information (and getting his fingers 'inky' from holding an actual newspaper instead of an electronic device).

I recently listened to a podcast in the “Must See Mondays” speaker series held at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication about this very subject (here's a link to the Vimeo-hosted video). Regina McCombs, a faculty member at the Poynter Institute and former senior producer for multimedia at the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune's website, presented "Phones, Tablets and the Future of News", her perspective on changes in the news industry caused by rapid advances in technology.  While her presentation style was somewhat annoying, the information she presented was extremely relevant to trends we are witnessing in the news and information fields.

This precipitous increase in the use of electronic devices (smartphones, 'e-readers', and tablet computers) to obtain our news and entertainment is forcing providers to focus more time and effort on uploading their products to these various platforms than they do to their original mediums (print, television, radio).  Due to the variety of these devices and their corresponding operating systems/browsers, it sometimes takes a small army of programmers to provide a viewable and enjoyable product for this growing customer base to view.  Add to this technology nightmare the industry's current business model of providing nearly all of these offerings for free and you can see just how daunting this revolution is for outlets who do not have the financial resources to adequately fund this necessary transition.

One of the promises that technology always makes to humankind is that it will help to make our lives easier and give us more time to enjoy our surroundings.  In our pursuit of this goal, we often take those time benefits and simply invest them into producing even more efficient things that perpetuate this process to a point where we become barely perceptible of the improvements.  For example, I recently upgraded from a perfectly good 3G smartphone to a 4G LTE model simply on the promise of faster speeds for transferring information to and from their network.  While I did see significant differences in connectivity between analog (1G) and digital (2G and above) when I made that upgrade a few years back, the benefits between 3G and 4G only become noticeable when transferring large amounts of data or when streaming high-definition audio or video presentations.When advancements can only be measured in portions of seconds, the advantages for these 'new and improved' versions barely register within the analog human brain. 

Golfing legend Walter Hagen is credited to having said the following about his approach to life:

You're only here for a short visit. Don't hurry, don't worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.

And perhaps that was the lesson that Hi and his writers have been trying to teach their readers by highlighting his 'analog' ways of acquiring and consuming his news--at least until someone develops a virtual way to replicate those 'old school' experiences.

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