Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy

I’m feeling a little cynical these days. Global warming plays no small part in my malaise. The overall stupidity of people and their inability to fully appreciate their noses on their faces flabbergasts me to an appalling degree. I think it all comes down to convenience.

For starters, a local Toronto morning show featured a suburban enterprise that operates a kitchen for people too “busy” to prepare their own meals. Well, sort of. You see, how it works is this company has different counters, each with cooked and/or cut-up ingredients for meals. You just slap the prepared stuff together in plastic containers (enough for about a week) and you’re done. No fuss, no bother. Except for perhaps the driving from work, picking up the kids, driving to the “kitchen,” slapping the shit together, putting it all in your SUV, driving back home, stuffing each meal in the microwave, and then watching some crappy “reality” show together…as a family…or as a couple…or as you eat alone while everyone else is off doing something. Yup. No need to drive a quarter the distance for groceries, thinking about what to feed yourself and your family, spending a few minutes chopping (with your family?), putting it all in the oven, and thirty to forty minutes later dinner is ready. The actual family thing, well, perhaps Dr. Phil or your mum can help you with that.

Next is an article in this month’s Vanity Fair by Michael Wolff called “Billionaires and Broadsheets.” The author details the large corporate buy-ups of major newspapers. The purchasers are old guys (fifty years of age and older) for whom owning a paper still holds Hearstian status:

There are among others music and film impresario David Geffen ($4.6 billion), after the LA Times; supermarket king and Clinton buddy Ron Burkle ($2.5 billion), and real-estate giant Eli Broad ($5.8 billion), bidding for the Tribune Company; America’s most celebrated retired executive, former GE CEO Jack Welch (some $720 million), going for the New York Times–owned Boston Globe; and insurance mogul—roughed up by Eliot Spitzer—Hand Greenburg ($2.8 billion), amassing shares in the New York Times.
However, what Wolff rightfully points out is that fewer and fewer people are actually buying newspapers anymore. He writes that in 1950, 100 per cent of households took one or more daily papers. “Fifty-six years later fewer than half of American homes get one. At the current rate of decline, no homes will get a newspaper in the not-to-distant future.”

Now I admit, I used to subscribe to a daily paper. When I moved, I had to cancel. These days, I buy a weekend Globe and Mail and read parts of the New York Times Sunday print edition at work. Otherwise, I manage to read the headlines of the free online editions of those papers plus the Guardian, the Independent, the Village Voice, and, if time, the Wall Street Journal. Sounds full, right? But it isn’t. Not even close. I find when I read print newspapers, I read most of the articles, plus inserts such as the New York Times magazine. Online, not even close. (Perhaps I’ll expand my New Year’s resolution to include buying a daily paper, too.)

What about others less diligent? What about kids weaned on Internet-only information and MySpace, for whom large swaths of text doesn’t even include vowels let alone analysis of voting records in either the houses of Parliament or Representatives? What then? Once papers go down (and I believe they will) then what regular, reliable news source will people turn to? Or will they? And will they vote?

Which brings me to flying. Noted for this love of things environmental, Prince Charles recently flew to from the UK to the US to receive an award for his advocacy. He drew much criticism from ecologists for the trip as it burnt loads of gas to fly said airplane. Last year at a book launch for WorldChanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century, photographer Ed Burtynsky (Manufactured Landscapes) remarked on the environmental damage caused by air travel. I’ve long thought that planes likely burn as much fuel as a football field (or two) of Hummers. So, ok, how does one travel to Europe or Asia or Australia. Or perhaps we don’t. Therein lies the problem, one which musician Peter Gabriel addressed recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. While the world-music aficionado sees the need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, he worries about what the lack of travel will do to cultural awareness. Our respective worlds could get much smaller, and our ideas much narrower. The Internet can only communicate so much. Code cannot fully appreciate the grandeur of the Alps. Zeros and ones do not equate smells and senses. Second Life isn’t real life.

So there you have it: people driving miles out of their way for convenient dinners they are "too busy" make in their own kitchens, scanning convenient headlines on the Internet, and moaning about foreigners.

Maybe I just need some sunshine-induced vitamin D. Or a good stiff drink.

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