Last week the way my family reacted, meaning losing it all, when the internet went down for a few hours, made me lament on how utterly dependent on the web we are. Our life is controlled by this mesh from everything such as news, to quenching our sudden curiosities, studies, office, banks, entertainment, and every other activity of daily living.
Well, with everything at our fingertips (literally) now, how did we ever manage when the internet was not so encompassing a decade or two back, and non-existent before that. When the phrase world wide web conjured a completely different sci fi imagery.
My mind goes back to the years I was growing up without the internet.
Let’s start with the news of the day.
There was no system of instant news reporting (like now, sometimes even before it happened!!). There were no random video clicks of important events by a random passer-by who happened to be there with a cell phone poised, like someone filming the first plane hitting the first of the twin towers. (I often wondered as to how that can be a coincidence but more on that later!). Photographs, in black and white, were taken by professional cameramen who positioned themselves in designated areas during an event. News were meant to be written by professional reporters. And yes, newspapers were a vital part of every family.
The person who woke up first in the household had the responsibility of opening the main door and picking up the newspaper. It was a custom of opening the door, bending and scooping it up, and cursorily reading the Headline. Newspapers were not covered in full page advertisements those days in glossy papers, and the topmost headline meant something, and it carried its stately importance throughout the day, oft referred over and over in many conversations.
But the person, picking up the newspaper, daily, was not to open the folded pages, but the custom was to keep it in a designated area marked for the day’s newspaper. No written rule, but usually the person picking up the newspaper, was much below the pecking order which was followed to read the newspapers.
Ah yes, there was a pecking order.
The highest rung was reserved for the patriarch of the family. He would read the newspaper, page by page, probably sipping the morning cuppa, and while doing so, read out loud some portions to the matriarch of the family, who is too busy preparing lunch bags and getting the kids ready for school, and will not get to the newspaper until noon. But worth getting to hear some of the news in advance.
Once the patriarch leaves for work, the person next in the pecking order gets the chance, and then the next and the next. Each person had their favourite place in the house where to read the newspaper and which page to go to first. The sports page or the international page, the fashion page or just the job advertisement. Once done, one had to carefully fold the newspaper and keep it neatly in the same designated space for the next reader.
I have never seen this pecking order being disturbed much and the newspaper always found itself back to its designated spot after each reader.
If some kids got their grimy hands on the newspaper, disturbing the pecking order, they were certain to be reprimanded and accused of crumbling the paper, staining it or keeping the pages out of order. It was best to wait till we returned from school, by when everyone would have read the paper and it would still be found in the same place. We would then be allowed to leaf through the pages, cut some items out for our scrapbook, or if it is raining outside, furtively, tear a page out to make a paper boat. And then swear loudly, if caught, that the page was not from today’s newspaper.
Because after the newspaper had its glorious day, it would have to be kept away in the store area. That responsibility usually belonged to the last in the pecking order and mostly to the children. And if anyone needed a sheet of paper to either wrap a book, or use it as a layer in a cupboard, or in this case make a paper boat, one needed to take the newspaper which was at the bottom of the pile. And days later, when the shelf in the store would be groaning under the weight of the daily newspapers piling up, scrap dealer would be called to take them away but not after a zealous bargain with the matriarch, on how much it actually weighs. The gains from the sale were used to buy something for the house.
So that was the life of the newspaper of the day and its reverence in our lives.
The only other form of news would be the 9 o’clock news in the radio. Now that was another significant object till it was displaced by the television, few years later. The radio claimed its revered spot during dinner time which also coincided with the nightly news. The responsibility of tuning the radio to get to the desired bandwidth rested on the important shoulders of the patriarch, and then over the years, passed on to the most responsible child, mostly the oldest. There had to be a hush silence as the elders listened to the news. No dinner conversation but listening to the crackling voice doling out the day’s news, the only source of what is happening in the world. Years later, this place was claimed by the television, and dinner was around it, everyone glued to it, and not much paying attention to each other, but to the riveting moving pictures on the screen.
And what do we have now?
Some of us do still take the newspaper. While the bending and scooping is still there, we cannot get to the headlines, as you know, we would have to leaf through several glossy pages, and there is no time in the morning rush for such a luxury. And even if we do get to the headline, isn’t it outdated already? As we have already seen it, heard it, read it, over TV, social media, and the ubiquitous chat channels, oh so many times, already!
The news and the headlines of yesteryears were something our folks ardently relied on and swore by.
Now, we are not sure. Fake and real live side by side and it is for us to decide what to believe.