LATE last night I did something shocking. It was like a quaint throwback in a way. A chatty Californian had just gone up to her room and I sat up and read the newspaper for half-an-hour. No music, no television. Just the crisply landscaped pages of the Observer.
Post-Brexit, I have found this to be a comfort of sorts. Last Sunday’s edition was full of reports and opinions about our crazy decision to leave Europe. And I have read just about every word, with one exception.
The best piece by far was part of a yes/no argument about what happens now, with the novelist Howard Jacobson in the fearful camp, and the Tory MP Theresa Villiers in the hopeful camp.
Unlike some newspapers, the Observer will give a platform to both sides of an argument, instead of twisting every fibre of an issue to fit its beliefs (yes, Daily Mail, we are talking about you; and you needn’t look smug, Daily Express, either).
Jacobson’s piece was superb, sorrowful and angry, funny and wise. Do seek it out. As for Villiers, I stumbled at the first paragraph and fell by the second. It wasn’t that I disagreed with her. Learning what the “other side” thinks is a good thing. No, it was just such a dull piece of writing, whereas Jacobson shone. One nil to the novelist.
Sometimes I struggle with my chosen Sunday newspaper, especially if there is not much happening and the reports seem dull. But last Sunday’s edition was first-rate. And it reminded me of the pleasure to be had in good old newsprint, and set me off thinking about the new electronic world versus the old paper one, and also about the time I fritter on Facebook and Twitter.
My feelings on this are complicated and a little hypocritical, I guess. For while I love a good newspaper, I only buy two a week and spend too long on my phone, checking the news, chuckling or frowning at Facebook or skimming across the surface of the Twitter lake (a bottomless place if you are not careful).
As I do not have an office to go into, I find Facebook both a comfort and an annoyance. On the good side, it’s like having colleagues and friends at a remove; on the bad side, you don’t half waste time on there. Or I do. Only snatches of time, but it adds up.
After I put down the newspaper last night, I hopped back into the electronic world and saw that a friend had posted that she was now staying away from Facebook, partly for reasons of using time better; and partly because of the conflicts that can arise between having real friends and social media friends.
This friend has said such things before, then slipped back into the Facebook bubble bath of inconsequentialities. So we shall see.
I like Facebook but sometimes it deflects me from the path of firmer purpose. It also raises a smile often. Points me at different sorts of news. Tells me about friends. So it’s mostly for the good. And it’s how most readers locate my little ledge.
As for print versus the electronic world, both have their virtues. But reading a proper newspaper done well, and not glancing at it while watching television, cannot be beaten, I’d say. And some newspaper websites are awful – not so much for what they contain, but for the endless adverts that drag everything down so much that the site becomes unusable.
I often look at my old newspaper’s website and end up leaving, frustrated not by what it contains, but the impossibility of reading anything.
When it comes to writing, I sometimes wonder if I’d be better going back. All you need is a room with a desk, a chair and a typewriter. Sadly, I got rid of my beloved old Hermes typewriter years ago. That old beast offered no distractions, just a mechanical means of bashing out words.