Editorial – June 2016: What in the digital…

What in the digital…

I still think people are too tactile to want everything digital.

 Hello everyone

A couple years back, I wrote an editorial about how digital was supplanting paper publications and not in a good way. With newspaper sales and indeed some magazine sales dropping off, not helped by reduced advertising, the slippery slope has started and accelerating. The alarmists are right to be…well…alarmed.

We might be a digital format, but I would not like to see the end of newspapers. You only have to compare the headlines issued on-line newspapers to the amount of material in the paper version to see the lack of variety. Digital will focus more on celebrity, cute and ‘big’ news and ignore everything else. This is usually because they assume people have a limited attention span on the Net or lack of time. Both are probably true to a certain extent but not for all. If you use SFC as an example of verbosity, I tend to think it’s part of our attraction or we were wouldn’t be getting somewhere in the region of half a million hits a month.

Assuming you reading this might have issues with whoever holds the reins of a newspaper, at least you know who it is. On the Internet, do you really know who controls or even issues the news, let alone be unbias? Do you really want to just be stuck with celebrity news, novelty curios news sound/visualbytes then that’s the way things are going. Even national and regional television news only picks out topics that at best fills a couple minutes at most and I doubt if you’ll be given an opinion to agree or disagree with. You’ll be absorbing and ignoring information so fast that you’ll probably ending up ignoring even more unless you’ve joined the campaign voting schemes that gets anyone noticed when they have an issue to be resolved.

One aspect of the future we’ve never really considered in Science Fiction is what happens if Big Brother doesn’t really care what you think or do or consider that whatever you say is going to affect society? After all, you have enough on your plate. If you’ve got employment, you have enough to do keeping up with your job and hoping for a promotion. Government will be something that comes up only every five years, that can vary as to which country you belong, and you have to hope that sensible heads will rule and not just have their own political agendas. Hmmm…that’s happening already but wait until it really escalates. We see a lot of that now but with nothing independent that you can readily look at, how will you know or how to react against it? After all, let’s see a show of hands as to how many of you look at digital newspaper websites on a regular basis? Then again, look at how little news they have compared to their newspaper counterparts. Although they have smaller budgets without printing, I doubt if their budgets can afford social commentators and columnists to express opinions. With a regular morning time with a newspaper, you’re committed to finding out what’s going on than move onto the next website for a scan of anything new. There isn’t enough time to do anything more than that. We’re used to scanning the Net.

pulpy pulp

How long will it be before school pupils will wonder why they need a lot of the subjects they are taught if they are never going to use it again, forgetting all the supplementary skills of research and discerning truths and lies? The belief that they can get any information they need on the Internet is based on everything being true so even their reasoning will be impaired unless they know enough to find contradictions and question their accuracy. I’d probably make a mint by selling the Moon as cheese.

Although I can appreciate a need to conserve trees and going digital will do a lot of saving, there will come a time when we’ll have to cut down trees again because we’ll have too many. What do we do with them? Burn or turn it to paper? Ah, but we don’t use paper any more. What a marvellous idea.

Last time, I did bring up the argument that it is possible for a nuclear war to obliterate digital knowledge and that is still true. The nature of the Internet now is for storage to store data in safe nodes throughout the world so that information will be safe somewhere, assuming no viral worm is used to distort or wipe it out. However, will the hardware be that safe? Unless your computer tech is solar-powered, the loss of a conventional power source will put everyone on an equal basis with nothing they can use. If we don’t preserve books and know how to use the information they supply, any country could be back to the stone age within a month of any major catastrophe. A total reliance on digital is not a good way for overall survival.

Something occurred to me while writing this editorial is that one of the attractions of getting information off the Net is that you can get most of it for free if you know where to look. Websites in the past who were free and then switched to subscription quickly went out of business simply because their readers chose somewhere free. Although I doubt if all websites would become subscription, it wouldn’t be difficult for those who regard themselves important enough not to be missed slapped a few on and kept their information away from other sites. Even if the fee was small, when you multiply up by a few million, it starts to make money. That might be the only saving unless companies were greedy from the start which is also possible. That would soon work its way around all the commercial websites and only ‘amateur’ or non-fee websites like ours would survive. Saying that, how long would it take for people world-wide to accept they would be paying fees all over the place making the cost of a real newspaper seem cheap by comparison. That is, of course, assuming that they decide to cut back on Internet usage because most of it is too expensive.

If we become totally dependent on others to do our thinking and assume ‘others’ don’t have the same lack of knowledge as ourselves, we could end up with no one knowing anything within a couple generations. None of this looks good and I’m only at some of the consequences. The computers will win by default but they won’t be doing much because there will be fewer people putting information into them. A utopia of ignorant people who are reluctant to change or rebel is an SF trope. Unfortunately, there isn’t the possibility of a renaissance man or woman to come in and set things right as we lack adequate cryostasis let alone a time machine.

Now you people reading here are probably amongst the odd million on the Net who really do read and not scan. Does the scenarios about send a shiver down your spine? We appear to be on a sticky accelerating slope to no more paper publications or so few not to count. Do we really need the Internet for totally everything? Do we really only want the Internet and television as our only two mediums of news reporting? Just because we’re in one medium, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t support the other.


Thank you, take care, good night and let all your words be honest ones.

Geoff Willmetts

editor: SFCrowsnest.org.uk


A Zen thought: Valid criticism is far stronger than whoever wrote it.


Observation: The photograph that Deckard studies in ‘Blade Runner’ taken by Leon shows a reflection of Zhora sleeping. Since when do Replicants sleep and do they dream of electric sheep? But then, Rachael also gets forty winks. Wouldn’t you have thought that Tyrell giving them such a short life-span that he would have resolved not to let them sleep or was it put in to ensure that the humans wouldn’t worry about them when they also slept? After all, they’re not really human.


Observation: Do you ever wonder when characters in films of TV series are given real SF author names that they are running out of imagination or ‘trying’ to prove their credentials?






2 thoughts on “Editorial – June 2016: What in the digital…

  • As an ex-pat your words regarding newspapers really hit home. I no longer read my British newspaper of choice because their digital format is subscription only – so I make do with the US edition of The Guardian (which they have recently revamped for the worse) with a couple of extra newsletters (‘long reads’ for the weekend and also the weekly books column) which allow me to browse further.

    I have long denigrated the American news industry – one or two not-very-national papers and an over-reliance on local news on television. sadly it’s not that much better in Canada, somewhat inevitably.

    Interestingly I also subscribe to a couple of newsletters penned by an independent author who was talking only a few days ago about the need to publish print books as well as digital versions – for posterity if nothing else. The need for a Survivalist essential booklist is something that might usefully be followed up.

    Oh – your comment about schoolchildren questioning the subjects they are taught is of course somewhat late: they have always done this and as a former teacher I know… (As Shakespeare said: ‘… the whining school-boy… creeping like snail unwillingly to school… ‘)

  • Hello Julian
    I had a similar problem when I was at college 40 years ago. Oddly, a lot of the things I questioned is now part of modern science.


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