Ritual: The Forgotten Sweet Spot of Old Media

By | July 7, 2008


Lifehacker just pointed to a four-year old entry on how to fold a newspaper:

Real Simple magazine has an old but good step-by-step guide to folding an unwieldy broadsheet newspaper for easy reading on the go. It’s really just a matter of a few well placed folds, but if you don’t already have a good folding strategy, this post is a great starting point. On the other hand, if you’re a newspaper-folding pro and your methods differ from Real Simple’s guide, let’s hear all about how you make it work in the comments.

Of course, my first reaction was the same as some of the commenters: “What?? Next we’ll be taught how to blow our nose!” But actually it’s quite informative, and I notice that it’s exactly how my dad would read the paper.

Of course, he never taught me how to do that, and I’ll probably never need to teach my kids how to do it. “Fold a newspaper? Are you insane, Dad?” Instead, they’ll be reading on their Readius:


And that’s the point: My use of the newspaper is bound up in my memory of my father reading the newspaper. We as children mimic adults, so it was a sign of maturity for me to read the newspaper—or rather, for me to master the newspaper. That didn’t mean just reading it, but handling it—folding it, creasing it, carrying it under my arm, swishing it in the air when I turned a page, tut-tutting at the goings-on of the world.

Another moment yesterday elicited the same thought: Banished to the kitchen I was listening to the Wimbledon Men’s Final on the radio while my wife watched it on the TV. Of course, it’s vastly preferable to watch it rather than listen to it, but still the atmosphere created by the commentator on the radio was so powerful, his descriptions so flawless and compelling, that I found myself preferring it to the easy visuals of the TV.

What’s more, it took me back to those schooldays clustered around the radio listening to the second-half commentary of soccer matches on Saturday afternoon, or, radio under pillow after lights-out with the volume on 1, following an evening UEFA Cup tie between my team and some exotic-sounding team from behind the Iron Curtain. It was so magical, so dramatic, the inflexions of the commentator so perfect, I am forever transported back to those moments whenever I hear sport being described in real time on radio.

Of course my wife thought me absurd for prefering audio over visual. And I readily accept it is. But it’s like newspapers: beyond the obvious argument that some formats trump others in certain situations (newspapers over computers in the bath; cellphones over newspapers on crowded transport), there’s also the fact that we connect emotionally to the formats, not just because of habit, but because they evoke deeper feelings—to the past, to familiarity, to a sense of habit and ritual.

Most debates about newspapers nowadays are about when they’ll die out. I don’t believe this will happen, because they represent a format that still trumps others in certain situations. But beyond the practical there’s an emotional element too, and perhaps the challenge of ‘old’ media is to capture some of these emotional connections—newspapers strewn around in Starbucks, free, throwaway radios for listening to commentary at big games—in order to inject fresh life into the medium.

After all, it’s not just about reading yourself up-to-date. It’s about the physical pleasure of reading, of feeling at peace and in the security of a familiar habit.

Reading: How to Fold a Broadsheet Newspaper

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