The biggest thing I learned is that if newspapers ever disappear I’m going to find it very hard to bring my laptop to the breakfast table and avoid dropping flax cereal on it. Seth said yesterday he hates the physical paper, so I want to know: What do you read at breakfast? Like our West Coast newspaper readers, I love the paper as a physical object. But I realize this may be in large part because of lifelong habituation. But even in our fractured media world, it still is satisfying to feel that you share with people you know a baseline of common information that comes from reading the newspaper—and, obviously, it doesn’t matter whether that paper is delivered to your door or downloaded on your Kindle.
Since I was restricted to the Web for an hour a day, my fingers were itchy to cruise and update. For breaking stories the Web is unbeatable. (Michael Jackson’s in the hospital; he’s dead; he had a shot of Demerol just before he collapsed; he was bald.) For the Henry Louis Gates story, seeing the comments of readers that the Web makes possible added to the experience and to the sense of being part of a national conversation. But for many other issues (health care, say), I realized that there isn’t necessarily much valuable in the incremental pieces of information (a remark from Nancy Pelosi) you can get all day long. Not reading the papers, I missed the sense of having a reliable place to start from, a baseline that gave me a reported, thorough look at the issues of the day.
Sure, you can then spend the rest of the day reading critiques or analysis of what the papers missed. And there’s obviously tons of interesting, important stuff on the Web the papers never touch. But this experiment was to see whether we felt we were informed citizens if we went without newspapers or without the Web. And I would feel lost without the papers.