December 14, 2015

By Arthur H. Gunther III

There is comparison to be made to the fellow or gal standing in the corner of the dining room surfing a smartphone and a man/woman the same age sitting in a quite comfortable reclining chair in 1956. Both seeking information about local events, city, state, national, the world. Both thirsty for news. And each getting their fill.

The 1956 individual, home from all-day labor or still at home after duties there, dinner and chores finished, then finds time for relaxation with a newspaper. Perhaps he/she had several to choose from  — the unfinished morning tabloids (two) and the afternoon dailies (three) plus the weekly local paper. Much to read.

Not all is read. Too much news to take in, so there is headline scanning and exploring some stories just three paragraphs in, more than enough to learn the “who, what, where, when, how and why,” written in what we old newspapermen learned was “pyramid style” — put the key facts first and fill out later. Don’t bury the substance of the story in the middle-to-last grafs. Almost a lost art now, though.

The 1956 fellow/gal might also move on to favorite columnists — sports, society, financial, commentary — and have “conversations” with them as these were well-invited guests each day to his/her home.

All in all, the man/woman back then, blue collar or professional or housewife, could rise from an evening easy chair well-read. Great for the individual. Excellent for an informed democracy.

Now to the 2015 fellow/gal standing with smartphone. No time to sit, as in 1956, or at least no effort to do so. On the run. Smartphone scanned for the latest e-mail in a constant stream, or text; or for “news” stories that actually are headlines and quick, but often incomplete summary grafs; or the latest Tweet from a public figure, a personality, a fellow Tweeter; or a Facebook posting; or the most recent (1 minute ago) picture of something or another.

So much information, and that is just from the short time spent scanning the phone screen while standing in the corner of a dining room. In 15 minutes, another scan, perhaps in the supermarket line. Then one in the bathroom. Or as a recent, funny cartoon proposed: a couple on a date, each scaling up the smartphone, not looking at each other, no conversation. But, hey, one can always text the other, then and there.

Though my heart and mind are with newspapers — I cannot get through a day without them — this piece is not to declare on my own that the 1956 man/woman absorbing information so very deeply in an easy chair was a better deal than the 2015 flood of “news,” etc., that is obtained in constant looks at the smartphone, or vice-versa. It is merely to comment that such were the scenes then and now. It is life morphing, as it always has. Will it be better for an “informed democracy?” We shall see.

  The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached at

4 thoughts on “THE PASSING SCENE

  1. Howard Gleichenhaus

    I was with you Art, until the last paragraph comparing better or worse in refernce to the “good old days” of 1956 and 2015. In ’56 and ’61 (graduation from high school, then college from ’61 to ’65 we didn’t have 27/7 news bombarding us from every angle yet we we had something far more important.

    Newspapers and what passed for TV news gave us time to think, absorb and digest, and the time to discuss it it in real time and in real words with colleagues, friends and teachers. We bounced info off each other, learned to communicate in English, improve our vocabularies and communicate with live, breathing human beings.

    I see friend and acquaintances at dinner with heads stuck in cell phones and tablets. They break away from conversations and continue on with someone else while dinner companions sit silent, or write that important 140 character Tweet than cannot wait another second. Grammar and usage has started to disappear. They do not even teach cursive handwriting anymore. Great literature is is often condensed for ease of reading to a digital summary of plot and character. Richness of language is going by the wayside.

    Maybe, as I have been accused, becoming that “old man” who screams get off the lawn at kids but I don’t think so.

    1. thecolumnrule Post author

      Oh, I agree, Howard. I was being charitable, but I think the references to incomplete stories and the sound/word bites of today versus what was an “informed democracy” in 1956 make my point. I left the door open to “progress” this time, in the hope that the morphing of information delivery will bring us a better outcome than so far with these new “information” devices. Thanks for your articulation.


  2. James F. Leiner

    In today’s world, news is contained in a “thirty-second-sound-bite!” Gone is the in-depth reporting and writing of feature news. Funny, call me old fashioned, I still love to have the newspaper in my hands where I can read and often reread the story to dig into what is taking place. Today folks just don’t have the time. One of the young ladies in my Sunday School class told me a few weeks ago, “All I need to know about life is right here!” As she proudly held up her 5G smart phone. The world is a changing….

  3. thecolumnrule Post author

    Jim, I begin my day with three newspapers, no smartphone for me. People will always thirst for information, so let’s see where the “new age” takes us. Tx. for your comment.

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