When we lived in the D.C. Metro area, we subscribed to The Washington Post. It landed on our stoop with a thunk before dawn. Reading the paper was part of my morning ritual: make coffee, unfold the newspaper, open it up, and read while I sipped coffee. The paper rattled as I turned pages or folded it to make it more manageable to hold. I’d touch the sharp edge of a page to turn it, or lick my thumb to unstick sheets.
My fingers turned black from the ink, and on weekends I would sharpen a pencil, fold the crossword page so only the puzzle showed, and feel the recycled texture of newspaper-grade paper under the side of my hand as I filled in boxes with my wooden pencil. The pencil smelled of wood shavings when I pulled it from the metal blade of the sharpener.
I don’t read a newspaper anymore. I get my news from the radio and from podcasts: electronically.
I was thinking about this in the shower today (my thinking place), about how we listen to music electronically, news electronically, I work electronically on a computer screen. Much of my tactile interaction with the world is via fingers on a keyboard, wrists resting on metal, fingertips tapping plastic buttons. Before our record player, much of my audio interaction with the world required pulling up music on a screen, whether a laptop, desktop, or mobile device.
A majoity of my visual interaction with the world is looking at pixels on a screen — two dimensional, the screen creating its own flat glow rather than revealing texture via reflected light.
I wonder if this sensory experience is why we crave physical objects of yesteryear — manual typewriters, vinyl records, film cameras, bound books, newspaper. These physical things have weight — the heft of a Minolta, the tension of typewriter keys; they make sound: clack and crackle, click and crinkle; they have scent — metal, oil, typewriter ink, paper pulp; and they provide a tactile experience that connects with all the other senses: the satisfying sounds they make, the textures that light reflects, the scents they emit.
Physical objects are interactive in a sense-driven world. They connect all of these sensory experiences. When we touch a newspaper, we feel its texture, we smell its pulp, we hear it rattle, we see its movement, what section we’re in. We see how many pages we’ve read and how many pages we haven’t. We create piles: finished; not interested; still to read. And when we’re done, we have compost for the garden, or fuel to start winter’s fires.
All that being said, digital life is convenient. The delete key has changed writers’ lives; records can’t be played in the car, can’t be played for 4 hours of continuous background music; digital photography is quicker and more accessible than film; I can carry a whole library with me (and enlarge the font!) with my e-reader; we don’t waste trees to carry newsprint we’ll never read.
Still, The Daily Post’s Newspaper prompt got me thinking. I miss my morning Washington Post ritual. As a digital worker, I need to be mindful of engaging all of my senses, in a three dimensional world.
For the month of April, I will publish a 10-minute free write each day. Minimal editing. No story. Just thoughts spilling onto the page. Trying to get back into the writing habit.