On Paying for The New York Times

According to a recent Gizmodo post, there are ways around the soon-to-be-up-in-the-US paywall. I’d note this bit of the post:

The trick here is that any home delivery package includes a full digital subscription. And—conveniently enough—a Monday-Friday home delivery costs you just $3.70/week for the first 84 days, or $14.80/month. That’s less than the cheapest digital plan, and gives you unlimited web, phone, and iPad access.

It depends on where you live; buying just the Sunday paper might cost less. I hate to sound like a commercial, but I believe strongly that there are things worth paying for. This is a great deal–some paper access and all digital access for on-line searches, some of the most fantastic graphics to illustrate the news anywhere on the web (look at these and these about the earthquake and tsunami), and full use of archival tools like the Times Topics.

And you get the print version. On-line is nice, but it does sacrifice at least some of the virtue of serendipity: I at least find that when I read the print version, with full articles in front of me rather than headlines to click on, that I’m much more likely to dip into them than when I just glance over headlines to choose among. I read more and learn more.

This kind of browsing is an example of how patterns of web literacy do differ from patterns of print literacy. A long time ago at the beginning of the internet explosion I remember professors assigning M. Kadi’s article “The Internet is Four Inches Tall,” which punctured the notion that news (and, at the time, the popular use of usenet groups) on the internet would somehow liberate us to read all sorts of diverse points of view–when in fact all it does is to allow us to more solidly confirm what we already know:

J. Individual has now joined the electronic community. Surfed the Net. Found some friends. . . . Traveled the Information Highway and, just off to the left of that great Infobahn, J. Individual has settled into an electronic suburb.

Now, this argument has been debated; here is a much more recent discussion of it. [UPDATE: and here’s another report about a similar point: “Anti-Social Networks? We’re Just As Cliquey Online.”]. One recent fascinating modification of this thesis (I’m relying on reviews here, since I’ve not yet read the book) is in MIT professor Sherry Turkle’s recent Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, in which, according to a recent review, she argues that isolation is a result of how we anthropomorphize technology:

even as more and more people are projecting human qualities onto robots . . . we have come to expect less and less from human encounters as mediated by the Net. Instead of real friends, we “friend” strangers on Facebook. Instead of talking on the phone (never mind face to face), we text and tweet. Technology, she writes, “makes it easy to communicate when we wish and to disengage at will.”

In another review which traces the history of Turkle’s thought about the internet, she was not once so pessimistic. (For a great interview with her, see her on Frontline’s “Digital Nation.”)

It’d be very hard to retain any optimism if The New York Times goes under. It’s cheap, and you’ll be helping one of the greatest papers in the world, with some of the best reporting in the world, to stay afloat.

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