Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Top News Story for 2011

Strictly speaking, it's clear to me that I'm not qualified to name the top news story.

What do I know about most of last year?

From January 1, 2010 to September 11, 2011, I was still unplugged from the news.

I was doing my best to imitate a guy named Van Winkle.  "Asleep," I was fully committed to my 365-day, 24/7 news-snooze...

Still, all things must end, and over the past few months I've caught up on some of what I missed. It seems pretty obvious what belongs on all the experts' Top Ten News Story lists. It's tempting for me to go along with them.

Likely Candidates
For example, I thought I might choose the death of Osama Bin Laden. That was a big story, right? There's a problem , though. Months have passed and I haven't had the raw curiosity necessary to wade backwards in time and dig out the old newspaper from May 1 or the Newsweek I saved and read up on what actually happened. I haven't even googled "Death of Bin Laden." How can this be my top news story if I still haven't read about it?

Likewise, when it comes to another major news story of 2011, the apocalyptic Japan earthquake, I haven't educated myself except when I read about a recent tour given the press of the ongoing cleanup at the nuclear power plant. And one time I stumbled across a few on-line photos of the devastation. They were so upsetting that I didn't want to know more.

What else might be a competitive news story? They tell me that William and Kate's wedding was one for the ages. Again, I missed it, and like a student who repents at the end of the semester, I don't see how I can make it up a class I never attended.

Whoever said, "A kiss is just a kiss..."?

As for what's happened that I've actually experienced while "awake" during the final portion of the year (Sept. 11 to Dec. 31, 2011), there just hasn't been much. This fall's Republican debates? Herman Cain's rise and fall? Rick Perry's "oops"? The playing "chicken" between Congress and Obama over extending the payroll tax cut? With news like this, I don't know anymore when to laugh and when to cry.

"It's got to be here in my notes..."
The candidate who needed a Lifeline.

A Decision
One thing the Van Winkle Project taught me is that the news is over-rated. It's an activity that constantly takes the pulse of the patient, and energetically tries to offer a prognosis (the economy is getting better, the Middle East is getting worse).

The problem is that by anxiously taking a daily pulse of the ills in society and around the world the news is prone to entirely miss what's going on with the overall healthy aspects of humanity over the larger course of time.

Yes, I actually think that if one takes a long view there was good news in a few nooks and  crannies of the much maligned 2011. That's my top story...

What's Old is News
One of the most obvious things going on around us is technological change. This Christmas just past was the Christmas of the e-reader with Amazon's Kindle Fire racking up enormous sales. This comes after the Christmas of the iPad and the Christmas of the smart phone and the Christmas of the flat-screen HD TV and, going way back a whole ten years, the Christmas of the iPod.

A new year, a new gadget, a new way of doing things. It's become the norm.

I've noticed though that as we move old things into the garage (like two humongous tube TVs my brother has stored in his) some of us are hesitating and deciding to hang on to the best of the past. Here's what I've read about lately:

1 - Publishers are bringing out more lavish books with special covers, bindings, and artwork.

In the age of the e-reader, the books that survive as physical objects must offer something that cannot be digitized.

Heft, the smell of leather, palpable embossing, fine papers.

2 - An emerging movement in the world of runners is promoting the idea of running the way the ancients did it: barefoot. In his book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superatheletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, Christopher McDougall swears that it's only by abandoning the technology of the expensive running shoe that runners can be sure to avoid injury.

According to the barefoot gospel, you were born with feet, not shoes. You belong to a species with the world's greatest endurance, such that humans used to routinely run for hours after faster creatures until they collapsed from fatigue and could be captured... Yes,you were "born to run"!

3 - Wrist watches are selling more than expected. Like the aforementioned books, the more lavish the timepieces are, the more they are prized. How can this  be? Most of the people I know have the time of day (plus temperature and their GPS location on planet earth) at their fingertips via their smart phone. Yet people recognize there was something beautiful about this older mobile technology.

I've got the time, right here on my wrist!

4 - I've made my own "discovery that is a recovery". A year ago I hooked up my 1982 Parasound turntable to my 21st century amplifier and speakers and brought out some of my old records. I'd heard audiophiles tout the superiority of LPs over CDs, but I was always skeptical.

Hearing was believing. What visited my ears courtesy of four decade old records was richer, more detailed, extra realistic sound compared to the shiny silver discs.

I've become a convert to vinyl.

By the way, this is not some embarrassing confession of a Baby Boomer clinging to his youth. When I go to the local vinyl shop who do I see pawing through the bins, big smiles on their faces?

Teens and twenty-somethings.

Top Story of 2011: Taking Back the Past
So here's what I consider the most encouraging, remarkable, and unexpected thing that I noticed happening last year.

Around the world people continue to decide that some of the old ways
of doing things are worth keeping, using, and celebrating.

The old technology may be more labor intensive or time consuming, but whether it's a happy, flavorful chicken you raised in your backyard or the original Atlantic pressing of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's Deja Vu in the pebble-textured, gate-fold jacket with the paste-on cover photo, here's the deal: the quality is better.

The world may be hurtling head-long into a science fiction future, but more than a few of us are determined that as we make the journey we will not be worried about going the fastest or taking the shortest route.

You see, we're bringing along some of our old stuff with us. We'll arrive eventually at the "future," but we may just do it barefooted - a.h.