Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Bill Archer

February 10, 2014

New age of communications arrived to leave ‘ancient communications’ behind

— — About a week and a half ago, I had the opportunity to take a group of Cub Scouts on a tour of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph offices. The tour was supposed to start at 6 p.m., but some of the scouts and their parents began arriving at 5:50 p.m. I had been in Welch most of the day, and had only started writing my story about the second day of the Earl Click trial when Samantha Perry came into the newsroom to tell me that the scouts were here.

Every minute counts for a reporter working on deadline, so I was a little disappointed when I thought I was losing 10 minutes, but I hustled to get downstairs to meet the scouts from Bluefield Pack 82. Actually, it wasn’t a thing where I was going to be late. Although I had started at 9 a.m. that morning in Welch I was on the schedule until 9:30 p.m., so I figured I had plenty of time to write my story. When I talk with students, they often ask me what I do about writer’s block. My standard response to that question is, “When you work on deadline, there’s no time for writer’s block.”

Actually, only a few of the scouts were in the lobby of the newspaper when I went down to meet them and I had to wait another 15 to 20 minutes for some of the others to arrive. It was OK. I understand that their parents probably have jobs. Just a few years ago, I was in the same boat they are in now. Even my parents served on parent taxi detail, so I knew the drill. I always tried to get to where I was supposed to be at all times for Coleen and later for the young men I worked with as a WE CAN volunteer. Stuff happens and sometimes I was late.

Realizing that, I relaxed and enjoyed the time watching the young people and their parents interact. It was a good time for me to collect my thoughts. A few years ago, early visitors would expect a little chatter from their host/guide, but on that particular evening, everyone in the group was exercising his or her thumb-typing skills. It wasn’t just the kids. Even the adults were communicating on their respective smart phones. I laughed to myself when I thought about a line I once heard, “Talking is just an ancient form of communicating.” I felt like I was looking into the future.

It was interesting to see all of the communicating that was taking place. It was fun watching a late 20s or 30-something mother communicating on a smart phone with someone while her pre-teenage son was texting someone else. Everyone there was quiet and appeared to be content to be in their own world. I hadn’t seen anything like that before. I was amazed by the silence. People young and old were moving as they communicated, but no one was looking away from the communications device they were holding.

By the time the last of the troop members and their parent or parents arrived, I said, “My name is Bill Archer and I’m a dinosaur. I don’t have a smart phone and I don’t communicate with texts. This building started out as a grocery store in the 1950s, but after the store moved, the Shott family bought the building and put in a new web press. This newspaper started its daily run on Jan. 16, 1896.”

During the next 45 minutes as I took the young scouts on the tour, they were quiet, they paid attention and they seemed to absorb all the little subtleties of life in dinosaur-land. I wasn’t watching, but I didn’t see anyone text anything. I think I noticed a couple camera phones taking pictures, I’ve noticed that a lot of people take a lot of pictures. That’s a good thing.

I suppose at some point, if I want to keep working as a newspaperman, I will have to enter the 21st century and get a mobile communications device that I can text on. I grew up in a household that was on a “party line,” and I learned how to share telephone service with my neighbors. I also grew up knowing that our family had limited means, and that all of us had to watch our expenses and try to get by with the bare necessities of life. It proved to be good training for my future. We never had any excess as a family, and once you live that way it’s difficult to invest in another telephone payment when you already have a landline.

I really enjoyed the time I spent with the scouts of Pack 82. I hope they learned a little from what I showed them, because I learned a great deal from them. I think what I learned will ultimately help me as I move tenuously forward into a world that is far more anonymous and far less forgiving than the world I have known for a lifetime. I’ll just have to see how all that pans out.

The world is in the middle of a dramatic period of communications change. As a student of history, I have often thought that I would have enjoyed watching the transformation in world affairs that took place when Johannes Gutenberg unleashed the concept of movable type on the world. I think what I’m observing now is something akin to that. One thing is certain. The coming years should be interesting.

Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him


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