News Without Noise…by Steve Safran

Remember what it was like to get the daily news back before it was terrifying or held in your very hand? Before the wrong combination of likes or dislikes or posts or comments could brand you as UNCLEAN for billions to mock or deride, even though you might have only accidentally landed on cut/paste/post while searching for car keys or spare change? Remember when an essay masking as “news” couldn’t be immediately discounted by snopes.com, or when journalism itself was a noble profession assumed to be grounded in a search for truth?

This is my life right now, and I completely enjoy it.

There’s very little I like about Life Without Screens, mind you. My DVR is bloated with episodes I’ve missed, and is now groaning with repeats of shows gone by. My fault. I never envisioned a two-month hiatus from must-see TV. But I am actually improving: up to about an hour of screen time a day now, nearly as much allotted to a well behaved first grader. While moving video will still hurl me into dizzy fits and land me back in my bedroom cave, to Britt’s enormous relief, I’m not sending badly-typed copy either.

I broke my typewriter. And this wasn’t in a fit of frustration. I really meant well, and threaded a c.1930s style ribbon quite expertly, I thought. But maybe not so expertly since all of the keys to the left of “V” now strike the paper in concert, sticking there like so many commuters stopped at a locked turnstile. I may be excellent at fixing electronics, but I’m a hopeless handyman.

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What I have discovered in my forced vacation from screens is the news. A journalist discovering news? Yes. The news that lured me into this field in 1992 is back, at least the way I consume it. I have an Amazon Echo (“Alexa? What’s the news?”) which gives me frequent national and local updates from NPR and WBUR. I read honest to God newspapers when I can tolerate the light. I discuss current events with Kim and kind friends who have been coming by to visit. It’s 1989 up in here.

I’m a digital media guy, and I wouldn’t like to live this way forever. I’d prefer to get news from a variety of sources around the world. Due respect to our city’s newspapers, but I prefer many different points of view. And I’ve always been the social media guru, traveling from station to station to lecture the importance of a strong social media presence. Photophobia kept me, until this past Sunday, from more than a minute in the light without severe pain. But one glance at a simple news story after a two week break, and I was reminded why I don’t read Facebook comment threads anymore.

News has become, in large measure, a kernel of truth surrounded by outer shells of noise. The networks are all the same:

CNN: TRUMP SAYS A THING, COULD END HIS PRESIDENCY

FOX NEWS: TRUMP SAYS A THING, HILLARY STILL NOT IN JAIL

MSNBC: TRUMP SAYS A THING, HERE’S A MEANDERING HOUR THAT WILL NOT MAKE IT ANY CLEARER IF IT’S A THING AT ALL

I love digital media. But I have to tell you, it’s like I’ve been chasing a runaway ticker tape for 20 years, and I finally just get to linger over some clean copy in Courier. Take my advice. This summer, even for a few days or a whole week, do this:

Go dark.

 

In the Dark… by Steve Safran

For the past two weeks, I have been living in a Hell that feels especially designed for me. The staff at Dante’s Fitting Punishments were inspired when they green-lit this one for Stevie: I can’t look at a screen without getting sick. Yes, your faithful computer-addicted correspondent, status updater, and occasional blogger is writing this on a 1936 Royal Portable typewriter, fitted with an ancient ribbon that makes this draft a bit of a challenge to read, and more than a pain in the ass for Britt to transcribe.

A fortnight without screens has been—forgive me, for “fortnight” and this pun—an eye-opener. Make no mistake, this isn’t one of those Author Unplugs and Discovers Life essays. No, I’m way behind on a lot of important work. Among other pressing tasks like taxes, kid graduation, and wedding planning, there is a softball team to organize. Not that there’s any danger we’ll ever play, with incessant nor-easters making fools of our Opening Day.

I have, however, rediscovered books—the bound and print kind!

Side note, on the 1936 Royal Portable, typing that exclamation point required period, backspace, apostrophe. With an economy of keys, a capital “I” subs in for a number one. And though this trusty, 30lb “word processor” inside of its carrying case was the war correspondent laptop of its day, it would easily topple a tippy Starbucks table. If I want to write, I’m stuck right here at home.

Luckily, I can tolerate sound and I’m searching through the free audio plays at archive.com, though I need to have my faithful fiancée or son Simon queue up “Henry V” for me. Any more than a quick glance at a screen makes me dizzy and initiates instant, blinding headaches. I can only use them briefly, in the dark, with the “Night Shift” setting that takes out the blue light.

Part of the reason I’m sharing (typing) this is to query others about similar experiences. This is scary. I’m worried. The doctors I’ve consulted have ruled out the terrifying possibilities I might find on WebMD if I could look at a damn screen, but they have no diagnosis yet. Until they do, I feel like an outcast, alone in the dark, bumbling through a non-screen life in an all-screen world. And as much as I love my loyal 1936 Royal Portable, I really miss my Mac.

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My “laptop,” the I936 Royal Portable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

i-Stupid

Saturday morning, I reached for my phone and noticed the battery was at 21%. Though it was plugged in overnight, I sometimes need to wiggle jiggle or flip it—even though lightening cords have no polarity—in order for charging to happen. This is common for me. Electrical stuff just sort of doesn’t work, or stops working, or eludes me. I try to hide this from Bernie and the boys. Whenever I complain about a technological challenge they affect the sort of gaze glaze reserved for doorstep Jehovah’s Witnesses. They’ll shake their tired heads, give me un-followable instructions, and mutter, “blondie.” This never changes the fact that your screen will turn to BLACK the minute you hand it to me. I don’t know why this happens. But it always does.

Lazy Lees often skip breakfast on Saturdays and start throwing out lunch suggestions in the late afternoon. I won a minor victory (no Chinese food!) by installing the Shake Shack app to order the family burgers. Brodie was by my side to ensure I didn’t bungle this, and insisted on reading the app reviews, which were middling at best. Still, I successfully navigated a download (even though I never know the Apple ID password) and pre-ordered lunch that would be ready when they texted.

But they never texted. No call. No email.

When I finally found a human to explain this to me, he couldn’t. They had my phone number and email address and my food was hot and ready… but there was no way to let me know? Apparently. I knew it wouldn’t go smoothly, because, well, it never does. We ate our tepid burgers and limp fries, anyway.

Later that day, Teddy wanted a ride to visit a friend who lives beyond the interstate loop. Driving north on the highway, I was already lamenting a return trip in untold miles of stopped traffic… until I remembered that I had WAZE on my phone. Like some sort of app genius, I entered our home address, saw an alternate route and waved goodbye to Teddy as I planned to outsmart traffic with technology. But she wouldn’t talk to me. I swear I had used her directions before, and she was constantly saying, “Watch out!” for speed traps, stopped cars, and roadkill. WAZE probably has a button to report punch buggies and license plates with uncommon letters. But she remained silent. And now I’m in this weird part of Wellesley without traffic, or verbal directions. Responsibly, I pulled over to see why she was being so coy, but every setting I could find indicated she should be heralding turns at full volume. Distractedly, I drove home snatching furtive glances at my silent phone.

Our devices are designed to make life easier, and yet for me, they are unpredictably unreliable. I have honest to God wondered if I’m imbued with an electromagnetic jamming signal that prohibits device compliance. Could this be a thing? Or maybe I’m just an idiot? Do your iThings always deliver? Or are you like me, clutching a black screen on unfamiliar roads with cold takeout wondering how you can be so smart and yet so iStupid?

Shake Shack

According to the app, Saturday’s lunch for the Lees is still a work in progress.