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And the beat goes off. January 12, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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First, the post office, confronting us with a future of no Saturday delivery and (worse) no second-day delivery for first-class mail, even if it’s local. And now the newspaper.

Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have subscribed to our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, since we first moved to PA. Silence especially feels that it’s important to keep track of local goings-on and not just national and international news, that knowing what’s important locally is essential to being part of a community, however peripheral (in our case) that part is.

So it’s been our morning ritual as long as we’ve been here: I take the dog (currently our black German shepherd, Shiloh) out at 6:30 and we get the papers. Then Silence and I settle back into bed with our papers and morning beverage of choice. I read The Wall Street Journal, she reads the Morning Call, and then we switch off over our second cup. By the time we’ve finished the papers, we’re sufficiently awake to get up and get on with our day.

Assuming, of course, that the papers arrive. We’ve always thought our newspaper carriers were heroic characters, reliably delivering the papers on their beat no matter the weather and often before first light. But ever since Christmas, our papers have simply stopped arriving, at least until around noon. We could understand if our current carriers had taken a week off between Christmas and New Year’s and asked a slacker relative to deliver the papers while they were off. But my calendar reminds me that it’s now January 12, which would add up to rather a long vacation for anyone, much less a paper carrier.

Silence isn’t big on stirring the waters, but after a week of this, I decided to call the paper and see if I could find out what was going on. After all, the point of subscribing is to get the paper first thing in the morning so you can read and enjoy it before work. If it doesn’t show up until noon, by the time you can read it, it’s old news and wasted money. Unfortunately, three calls later—one with an actual person—I still have no clue what went wrong.

At this point, I’m starting to get a bit paranoid, suspecting a computer conspiracy theory. You see, the Morning Call recently decided to follow the New York Times (and doubtless many other papers) and start charging to access their online coverage. Our friend Ben resents this, since I think online access should be free if you’re already paying for a subscription. Otherwise, I don’t see why they shouldn’t charge, since, after all, they’re a for-profit enterprise.

However. What if they’ve deliberately started shoddy delivery service to force their subscribers to switch to their online service as some sort of corporate New Year’s resolution to do away with actual paper papers? What if the folks who send out your monthly bills are paying the post office to slow down first-class delivery in an attempt to force everyone to pay their bills online? (Making, of course, your identity even more vulnerable to theft.)

As a stamp collector, our friend Ben would be very sorry to see the end of the post office. And having recently sent out a truckload of Christmas presents and compared the post office’s pricing versus that of FedEx and UPS, Silence and I know that we would be hit very hard in the wallet if we had only the latter two services to rely on for our packages.

But worst of all would be the loss of the mail itself. Yes, it costs 44 cents (and doubtless will soon cost more) to send a bill that you could pay online for free. But 44 cents seems damn little to pay to keep your identity a little more secure from thieves and villains.

Our newspapers aren’t quite in that category. After all, we can still get free news online at MSN, Yahoo News, and doubtless many other sources. We can still at least read the headlines online at the New York Times and etc., and so far, The Wall Street Journal’s online content is still free.

In the case of the papers, it’s all about lifestyle, that morning cuppa and the rustling papers in bed, with our ancient cat Athena curled between us, our Shiloh in her own bed at the foot of ours, our huge, gorgeous, clueless cat Linus hiding under the bed but crying out for attention, and our smart cat, Layla, perched on the cat castle in the bedroom corner to be companionable. It’s about being able to share headlines and tidbits of news and entertaining stories and outrageous typos and concerns about the weather with each other as we read. It’s about starting the day slowly and companionably together before we have to head off on our own.

Are conspiracies really afoot to drive us to our computers? Our friend Ben thinks it’s highly unlikely. It’s far more likely that we’re simply being carried along on the tide of inevitability. And, however much it saves the folks who are driving it, I still think it’s a shame, and doubt very much that those savings will be passed along to the consumer. But I still wonder whatever happened to our newspaper delivery service…

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