And sometimes it really hurts. I've spent much of my adult life writing for newspapers. I love newspapers. To me they are a living thing: Every time I travel I always buy the local newspaper and read it all the way through, right down to the classified ads, because nothing does a better job of giving me the spirit of the place, the personality of a community. I love sitting in a coffee shop, tearing open the paper, feeling the weight of the newsprint, looking at the layouts, the typefaces, the way local editors construct leads, the opinions on the editorial page, the choice of comics.
But newspapers are going to die, and there's not much anyone can do about it. They will be replaced by something different, and with luck, something better -- just as the PC replaced the typewriter and adding machine.
But something will be lost too, an essence and an experience that future generations won't even remember -- just as we can't remember what it was like to live in a world without electricity, where people gathered around the radio in the parlor on Sunday nights, or where streets were filled with only horses and skies only with clouds.
These losses, especially when they come in staccato bursts, as they do right now, create an ache in the heart, a kind of cyber-sickness that arises not only from mere nostalgia but from the sense that those larger entities by which we've defined both the world and ourselves have become extinct, leaving only … us.
For example, should the current trends continue, and the San Jose Mercury-News disappears, there will be no full-time employer in my career that still exists -- a very lonely thought, especially when I look back over my life and try to put it into a larger context.
And I suspect I'm not alone. I sense that whenever I read someone arguing, as many reporters are doing now, that something as venerable and influential and important as newspapers can never go away, what they are really saying is that they can't imagine their place in a world without them. They can't imagine telling their grandchildren about the work they did in their lives -- and seeing only blank stares in return. They don't want to be the tail end of a multicentury parade.
But none of us can hold back the waves of technology as they roll past. And they have only just begun. Next to go will be the telephone industry. Three days ago my 14-year-old discovered Skype, the free Internet phone network. Two days ago he joined a party line call on Skype with six of his buddies, talking and laughing as he swapped music image files with the others. Today he talked with a girl he met last month in England. The Skype interface is still pretty spartan, but who cares? It works. Six months ago I couldn't believe that eBay would pay $4.1 billion for Skype, a company with no real revenue model. Now I'm beginning to think eBay got a steal.
After that? Cable television. The whole à la carte debate is really the surfacing of frustration with cable's monolithic offerings in a world of increasing mass customization and choice. Cable has its own Skype lurking somewhere in the future. So does the movie industry -- when large plasma television screens display just as much CGI as neighborhood multiplex screens, and home disk servers can store dozens of hours of video, why would anyone go to the movie theater?