I have a confession to make publicly. I did something last week that I have long sworn I would never do. I went against many long-held principles purely for the sake of expediency. I used to sneer at people who behaved as I just did. I took the easy way out and I know that my actions hurt at least one person, if not many more.
With an intro like that, I am sure I hooked a few readers looking for some kind of gossipy confession of personal misdeeds. Actually, what I did involved new technology and photography, two of my favorite blog topics.
Last week, I was teaching a class on street photography at the International Center for Photography in New York City. I was staying with friends in Washington Heights, so I had a commute of 30 to 45 minutes each morning and evening. In the last ten years or so that I have been teaching classes at the ICP, and staying in Washington Heights, I had developed something of a routine. That involved buying my newspaper each morning from the same guy who sells papers in the subway station.
I was such a regular that as I approached him each day, he knew to hand me a Times, not one of the other newspapers he also sold to other commuters. We always greeted each other. It was hardly a “relationship,” but it was a routine. I knew who was going to sell me my newspaper each day.
This year, the class was a bit different and so my newspaper ritual changed. The class met from 2 to 9 pm. Approximately 2 to 5 pm we were in class, looking at work, talking technique and discussing our “process.” From 5 to 9 pm, approximately, we were out photographing. Before class, in the mornings I was in meetings or catching up on my own work.
So, I did something that I never though I would do. Each morning before getting on the subway, I would fire up the New York Times app that I have on my iPhone and download the latest news on my iPhone. Then I would descend into the subway and read the articles that caught my eye, during the commute. The type font is variable so I never had problems reading the articles. In fact I quickly became hooked on getting my news via the iPhone.
The thing is that as a former newspaper photographer I once had an almost irrational loyalty to the actual, physical, printed newspaper. My life as a photographer was profoundly shaped by my time working for newspapers. Most of what I know and practice came from my time when I was employed by a variety of different institutions that produced, physical, tangible, ink-on-paper reports of the news.
Using the iPhone in place of reading an actual newspaper felt like I was selling out or going over to the “dark side,” as I blew off the printed version of the paper. But leap I did and so far, I am happy I have done it.
Clearly, the newspaper vendor where I used to buy my paper is going to be hurt by my actions. He and all the folks in the chain of workers who print, deliver and sell the actual, tangible product, the newspaper, will be hurt by actions like mine. I felt so bad once I started reading the newspaper electronically for the newspaper vendor that as I passed through the subway station I avoided eye contact with him since I was no longer buying his newspapers.
The upsides of getting my news via my iPhone are obvious. I can read the news exactly as I want. There is no paper to be carrying, disposing of or recycling. Also, the news I get is constantly updated.
The downsides include the fact that I am taking a small amount of money out of the pocket of the newspaper vendor. Also, I wonder, what do I miss in terms of the articles I might accidentally happen upon in the print version, which I do not even encounter in the iPhone version. Opening the pages in the printed version and scanning all the articles has led me to many surprises. I can already see how that is not happening as much in the iPhone-based news reading system.
I subscribe to the NY Times already so they get my money anyway, but I wonder how the economics work for the company (and for the thousands of others who do NOT subscribe and do NOT actually pay for the news they read.) I am not feeling sorry for the NY Times. They have made their choices. They have their business to run.
But I was reminded by all of this that something is lost and something is gained with nearly every technological innovation. I am not sure I owe the world of printed newspapers an apology, but they should know, “I certainly feel bad for having scorned you. It’s true I cheated on you…. I went in for the younger, sleeker, sexier version.”