When I was growing up, I would watch my Dad read the newspaper. He read it cover to cover, but in particular he pored over the world news pages, and would comment to us on things he found interesting. He was a man living on a farm in a rural province, and had never been out of the South Island of New Zealand, but our daily newspaper connected him to the rest of the world. I was very excited when I was able to read well enough that I could read the newspaper too. Though I found that my reading ability was far ahead of my international geo-political comprehension.
We get the newspaper daily at our house. My husband runs his eyes over it cursorily, I read more of it, before being halted at the daily general knowledge quiz and sudoku puzzle. I know though that later, I will eat my lunch and finish the newspaper.
But the last year or so, my husband has been suggesting we stop our subscription. “After all,” he points out, “you can get all the news from the Internet.” And yes, that sounds like a reasonable argument. But the way I scan the Internet is different to the way at scan my newspaper. I frequently spend my day listening to news items and interviews on our national radio station. And so my Internet reading is focused around specific topics or views I actively seek out. But that’s the joy of the newspaper. I can turn the page and see an item that I would never search for or even click on when I am at my computer or iPad. I can scan the item quickly, not needing to scroll down or click to get to the next paragraphs, my eyes running across the words, perhaps pausing if I want to read more. I learn about things I wouldn’t normally know, and get exposed to things outside my comfort zone. (Newspapers in New Zealand are not strongly politicised, unlike those I have seen elsewhere, although it is an issue I am aware of, and I try to remain alert to bias.) That’s what I like about the newspaper. Its content isn’t controlled by me, unlike the various news and magazine apps I use online.
I worry a little about the influence of the Internet. I am not comfortable with the reality that we can choose to visit only those sites that tell us about things we already know, or already believe. They reinforce our views in an unhealthy way, because we don’t see or hear – if we don’t want to – views that counter our own. They tell us we’re right. That our beliefs/opinions/world view is right, the one and true point of view. Such affirmation can be intoxicating, and addictive, and – in my view – it is very dangerous. It can be easy to (even accidentally) slip into habits where we are not exposed to new, opposing ideas; ideas that might in fact make us think, ideas that might even help change our minds, or give us some insight to other people’s worlds, help us understand that we’re not all the same, ideas that encourage us to develop empathy for those who are different, and ideas that make us realise that one way (my way) isn’t the only way, and is not necessarily the right way. Yet a simple page on the newspaper has the power to do that. I’m not getting rid of my subscription any time soon.
Besides, is there much that is more pleasurable than sitting with a good cup of something hot, solving that last crossword clue?