Taking it Offline: Why Print Journalism Still Rules the Roost


Over the weekend, I had a rare opportunity to indulge in some quiet, contemplative time alone, as my husband had taken the baby to visit family in Hertfordshire for the day. Whenever I contemplate solitary activities of a Sunday, I immediately think of a bedcover strewn with the day’s news, a coffee in hand.

Before the baby, I read the news like most other hot-blooded ex-pats: online. At work, I would skim the latest headlines, whether arts or food or celebrity, and sometimes even delve a bit deeper into ‘local news.’ I was as prolific as my curiosity and natural inclination to chase after the elusive ‘common story link’ would allow. Then I would migrate over to Twitter like everyone else.

My Sunday morning in bed, which consisted of me pouring over choice bits of The Guardian, reminded me of why I prefer to read my news in print as opposed to online. I’m talking about something other than simple design, which, certainly, seems to tell the story of the news itself as it draws your eye across the pages, intimating continuity and reassuring you that time considering a point-of-view article is just as well spent as a foray into foreign policy.

There’s no denying that with print journalism, what you see is what you get. The Internet suffers because of this same equation, since what you see isn’t necessarily all that you can get. And unless you’re well versed in the intricacies of Information Architecture, you probably won’t spend too long searching for something nobody has told you to find. Most websites present a Russian doll of links that, more often than not, lead you astray – leaving you to retrace a trail of breadcrumbs just to find your way out again, let alone the information you came there for in the first place.

Without the benefit of defining sections, colours and other sign posts to tell you where to look next, online news appears as homogonous and infinite as the stars, with no natural beginning or end point, and thus gives us little incentive to plough on. Certainly, I might be more inclined to peruse a cartoon or a review of We Need to Talk About Kelvin if I see it there in front of me. I’m sure these pieces exist online as well, though I probably wouldn’t exercise my clicking finger to find one.

But even apart from these obvious differences, I believe print journalism will always win out over online news on a solitary Sunday morning, even if every news site came up with a clever design to keep me clicking. It’s the same reason why books win out over blogs, conversation over email – there is something tangible there, something that seems to grasp our own intuition and make us feel a part of something larger. There is a sentience in print that simply does not exist online.

I watch my son systematically put objects in his mouth, which is how infants get to grips with not only matter, but information, and the messages we transmit through seemingly innocuous material. The same holds true for print: inside those pages is a discourse so electric, so ‘live,’ that as you peel the fruit down to its stone, you can almost hear the thoughts of those who consume it alongside you from distant bedrooms, cafes, airports. The message is palpable.

Photograph by Alex Barth

Aloha: Welcome to Sunny, Warm Pain Relief


It’s taken a while for me to process the indescribable experience of giving birth, and of doing so in a country that encourages pregnant women to embrace natural (read: drug free) delivery – a timeless method which, presumably, advances in medical science have all but quashed.

Midwifery is another tradition that has been maintained in the UK, and England is one of the few countries left in the world that offers consistent, knowledgeable support to women throughout the duration of this exciting and worrisome time. It’s these midwives that dutifully perpetuate the myth that pain relief in childbirth constitutes an unnecessary intervention that interrupts the body’s natural ability to bring a child safely into this world.

My own ‘natural childbirth’ scenario was deftly revised, however, after nineteen hours of difficult contractions, when my extensive list of birth plan thou shalt nots went swiftly out the window and I heard myself whining pitifully at the new midwife on staff, “But Comfort said I could have the Pethidine and the epidural!” Thereafter I was sucking back as many different kinds of pills, gas, air and injections as the antenatal and labour wards had on offer.

While I’m still on board with the notion that any intervention could theoretically lead to more difficulties, which may then require a further intervention (a ‘cascade,’ as it’s termed), when I read the somewhat recently released BBC News story ‘Pain in Childbirth a Good Thing,’ I nearly choked on my slice of organic, granary toast.

I know that pain relief can, under certain circumstances, be a bad thing. But pain – the hours-long kind that makes you wish you could set your hair on fire just to provide a welcome distraction from a knife-twisting abdominal cramp you wouldn’t even wish on your worst enemy – that kind of pain…a good thing?

An associate professor in midwifery (professor, mind), Dr Dennis Walsh, not only called painful birth a ‘rite of passage’ but actually had the gall to insist that it ‘prepared [a woman] for the responsibility of motherhood.’ You know, because fighting nausea, swollen appendages and immobility for nine months and then lying in a pool of your own sweat and anxiety for three days straight apparently doesn’t do the trick. Personally, I thought I was on an all expense paid trip to Honolulu until someone tapped me on the shoulder and said “Psst. You do know you’re supposed to feed that thing, right?” And even then I was reluctant to leave the luau.

In my opinion, the epidural I had the Sunday morning following my first real labour pains of Friday night probably saved my sanity, if not my imminent fate on the operating table, which was a distinct possibility after so many hours with so little progress. I will never know if things could have happened differently had I only been better prepared. What I do know is that I have a beautiful child who is stronger and happier than I could have ever hoped – one who loves me, and who I love infinitely – and this has nothing to do with how much pain I experienced the morning a helpful team of midwives, doctors and anesthesiologists helped him into this world.

This new fandangle method of a drug-free birth experience may work well for some, but for me I say: bring on the stirrups and IV drip. I’ll be enjoying my Pethidine shooter on the powdery beaches of Hawaii.

Photo by Amin Ashaari

Hold the Phone

rotary phone

I was pushing my infant through our neighbourhood the other day and noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a red phone box. I scoffed inwardly, wondering (rhetorically, you understand) whether anyone actually used phone boxes anymore.

I mean, I’m sure people still use them as a private place to relieve their post-pub bladders, or to publish indecent images of girls and their very expensive telephone numbers. Though in a day and age where we no longer wonder whether Tibetan monks on a remote Nepalese hillside have mobile phones, but rather if His Holiness the Dali Lama uses a Skype app for staying in touch with the CTA, there’s little reason to believe anyone would ever need a public phone to make a call.

Then I saw some movement behind the smeared, dirty glass of the phone box and realised that someone was actually in there, using the phone.

This got me thinking about those old rotary phones of decades past – the no-nonsense tools of early communication that have so quickly become an ironic symbol of a slower, more manual age, and so have enjoyed a tongue-in-cheek resurgence in the homes of nostalgia-tripping hipsters and dour, hip-replaced pensioners.

It saddens me to think that my son will grow up never knowing the rewards that come from diligently drawing one’s finger around the spring-loaded faceplate, ensuring that every numbered hole meets the finger stop in order to create the correct configuration of pulse signals that will culminate in an electrical connection with an actual person. And not just any person: I’m talking about the right person.

With the advent of speed dial in the newer cordless phones and, finally, the mobile phones we use today, we are deprived – nay, robbed! – of the suspense that maybe, just maybe, we are erroneously dialing up a complete stranger instead of our own mothers. My son Hartley will likely never know the mild panic of such a scenario, and subsequent awkward mumbling of the phrase: “Sorry, wrong number.”

Nor will he ever know the distinct drama of hanging up on another individual – not just cutting them off, but the satisfying clatter of the handset as it is slammed down into the cradle at the precise moment of rising tempers, and even that unintentional ‘ding’ of the phone’s inner ring mechanism that this tempestuous impact sometimes engenders.

In ever ‘evolving’ communication-based technology, we gain the illusion of omnipotence: of being everywhere at once and in touch with the world wheresoever we may be at any moment. But in that freedom lies the growing inability to properly appreciate distance, timing, and the potential beauty that exists in that very moment between one number and another, when we could steal another opportunity to think about what we actually want to say.

We think that mobile technology saves us precious seconds of our lives, and this is true, but it also slightly impedes our ability to be present in ourselves, and in the foundations of communication itself.

Just think of those iconic films that made integral use of the phone as not only a prop but a symbol of societal alienation. Many of these nominal classics could not have even been made were it not for the rotary phone. If the realtors of Glengarry Glen Ross had worked from home rather than been ensnared in a claustrophobic maze of public and desktop rotary phones, for instance, the intense interplay of dialogue, major plot points and indeed very essence of the film would have been lost.

And you must admit: Tap ‘M’ For Murder just doesn’t have the same ring.

rotary phone photograph by macinate

Wisconsin Death Trip: Just In Time For Christmas?


When I was in my early twenties, an older friend leant me a book called Wisconsin Death Trip.  That particular copy was falling apart – the pages shuffled awkwardly against the spine – and seemed as old as its subject matter: a series of photographs taken between 1890-1910 by Charles Van Schaik, an American who learned photography after moving to Jackson County and thereafter spent fifty-seven years capturing small-town life in Black River Falls.

It sounds fairly dry, but the majority of the book concentrates on images of the deceased, which for some reason the good citizens of Black River Falls saw fit to dress and pose as though they were still alive.

The very idea sends chills down my spine, though the photos strike a peculiar balance between the macabre and the truly tragic (especially the portraits of young infants) which keeps you flipping through.


To add another note of disconcertion to an already eerie discovery, the town that Van Schaik was in the midst of documenting was plagued by disease, madness, suicide, murder, addictions, business and farm failure, and an overall despair stemming from harsh living conditions – all of which seems to infiltrate even relatively innocent portraits.

The book itself, which was written in 1973 by Michael Lesy, has since been adapted into a film, which speaks volumes about the extensive resonance of this beautiful, ghostly text.

Images from Wisconsin Historical Society