Hearts at Work

—A Column by Jim Tipton

“O Brave New World”


All of us are “the last generation” to live in a certain kind of world. Those of us born around the beginning of the Second World War were, as Michael Gruber points out in his novel Tropic of Night, the last to experience segregation of the races, the last to come to sexual maturity before women’s lib and the “Pill.” the “last to believe that the United States was invariably the good guy, last to get the full load of dead white male culture force-fed into their brains and souls, last to grow up before TV….”

I was born January 18, 1942, a little over a month after Pearl Harbor, into a world where trains were still used for transportation, where Morse Code and the telegraph were still used for communication, where bank deposits and withdrawals were still recorded by hand in a little book. The world I was born into had no nuclear weapons, no Sputniks, no violated moon.

Mine was the last generation to live without sophisticated computers, although, amazingly, the generation that followed was born into a world that did not yet have email (created in 1972), or the internet (a term first used in 1974), or the world-wide-web, the famous “www” we all bow to daily (which only arrived in 1992).

What must my grandparents have felt? My maternal grandfather was a horse-and-buggy doctor. My paternal grandfather was a Quaker blacksmith. Both were born before electricity, before radio, before the automobile, the airplane, and even before the Revenue Act of 1913 that established income tax.

I subscribe to a half-dozen magazines and I purchase a lot of books each year. I bemoan the loss of the printed word while at the same time I praise (and daily use) the new technology.

A few days ago I purchased Tim Leffel’s new book, Travel Writing, as an inexpensive download (254 pages). Five minutes after the purchase I was reading it (and I paid only a third the price of the print version…not including shipping).

Leffel warns writers that the old world of journalism is rapidly disappearing and we must, like it or not, learn to live in the new world of journalism. He writes, “We are in the midst of a major transformation, one not seen since the mass adoption of television.”

Here are some dramatic events Leffel lists from just last year and this year:

The Reader’s Digest Corporation filed for bankruptcy and Europe’s largest media company—Bertelsmann—reported its first annual net loss in 30 years.

In early 2010, Yahoo’s market value was more than all the following added together: New York Times company, Washington Post Company, Gannett Publishing (USA Today and 85 other newspapers), E.W. Scripps TV channel company, McClatchy, Media General, and CBS. (And Yahoo is worth a fraction of Google.)

A slew of magazines went under including National Geographic Adventure, Gourmet, Vibe, Far Eastern Economic Review, Town & Country Travel, Hallmark Magazine, Travel & Leisure Family, Travel & Leisure Golf, Best Life, Modern Bride, Plenty, Jewish Living, Nickelodeon Magazine, Domino, Country Home, Teen, and…Goats Across Canada.

Several other magazines went digital-only, including AdWeek, the Hollywood Reporter, and just about every magazine having something to do with tech (except glorious Wired, thankfully).

More than 100 newspapers folded and a few major ones in markets such as New York, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, and Boston teetered on the brink of financial collapse. The newspaper industry shed 86,800 jobs in just 12 months.

Britain’s The Independent newspaper sold for £1 plus assumption of debts.

The Washington Post company put Newsweek magazine up for sale after saying it “saw no way to turn a profit” with the publication.

The Condé Nast offices were going through so many budget cuts that there were rumors staffers had to bring their own coffee stirrers to the office. They cut pay for some articles at Condé Nast Traveler by 20% after ad pages dropped by an unprecedented 41%.

Adult hardcover book sales were down 18% and paperback sales were down 14% in 2009.

The Borders group closed 200 of its 330 Waldenbooks mall stores at the start of 2010. In some towns that meant the closing of the only bookstore since two of every three independent bookstores open in 1990 are now gone.

And remember, Leffel’s list is just for last year and this year!

Lecturing at a Colorado university last September I asked a young audience of perhaps forty people how many had ever received a hand-written love letter. One lovely hand went up, but then seeing no other hands, quickly dropped back down.

Enough of this. It’s time for me to put a favorite fountain pen to work.

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