Daniel headed for the darkest corner of his local Starbucks, the Last Newspaper clutched snug against his chest.
He opened it slowly, carefully, as if he were cradling an ancient parchment. The crinkling sound it made drew a few stares, and then a few more as those around him realized that they were sitting just a few feet from history.
Daniel pretended not to notice. He wasn’t much for attention or conversation. But even he couldn’t deny the significance of this stubborn relic that had struggled against the future and lost.
So he didn’t cringe when several customers put down their Kindles and slid over to his table. After all, he had heard the questions over and over for months as he executed his daily routine of “offline” media consumption. He knew that this day would come, when the Last Newspaper rolled off the press and he alone would be left to feel the ink seep into the creases of his fingertips, turn the oversized pages and engage in a forgotten literary ritual.
The questions often took the form of puzzled amusement:
- "Isn't the news old by the time you read it?”
- "How do you search?"
- "What do you mean you had to pay for it?"
- "Why would you want a bunch of content you don’t care about?
- "I’ve got all the news that’s fit to click right here."
- "What is ‘ink’”?
Daniel took it all in stride. He nodded politely, laughed lightly, and answered what he could with all the patience and quiet pride of a museum curator.
He reminded his rapt audience that what they now refer to as “content” used to be called “stories,” delivered by trained individuals known as “storytellers” and “journalists.” These people didn’t work for companies like Google or Amazon as they do now, culling “content” from armies of information aggregators and feeding it into computers which analyze and pull out the relevant information by keyword. Before news was fully automated, Daniel said, individuals wrote entire stories themselves. They researched and crafted linear narratives – unheard of today, he admitted, but at the time people found value in following a certain flow.
Of course, people had more time back then, too. The move from stories to content was slow as well, and its tipping point went largely unnoticed. Before anyone knew what was happening, stories became shorter, sliced, repurposed and packaged as do-it-yourself news. Where once we read stories, we now consumed content.
Maybe this is why it happened, Daniel thought, as the crowd went back to the soft glow of their Kindles and mobile media devices. Maybe the descent from stories to content was the fait accompli of the printed page.
Stories are personal and transformational. Stories have definition and character. Stories are history personified.
But content is cold, distant. Content is a commodity – a finite consumable of fleeting value. Content is artificial intelligence.
When storytelling is reduced to content, ideas die.
And with that, Daniel stood, folded the Last Newspaper back under his arm and walked away, leaving the future behind for the last time.