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Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Read newspaper for your daily serendipity

The best formula for digital natives and immigrants to lead a life most enchanted

If you are reading this on newsprint with ink-smudged fingers, give yourself a pat on the back. For those staring at the words on a screen, stop taking the blue pill for today and leave the ‘blissful ignorance of illusion’.In the seminal 1999 science-fiction movie The Matrix where humans are living in a simulated reality, hero Neo swallowed the red pill instead of the blue one, and faced the ‘painful truth of reality’.

I would argue that unlike the deceived people in the film, we willingly put on our rose-tinted glasses and live our lives in a cocoon of our fabricated reality aided by our highly personalised media consumption.

With cable TV offering 24-hour niche programming to online curated sites, social media and forums, it is a very tantalising thought of only consuming the content that appeal to you like entertainment or sports for example. Who wouldn’t want to be submerged in the seductive world of K-pop or the adrenaline rush of English premier league soccer day in day out if it makes them happy?

When like-minded folks congregate, tribes are formed both in the real world and online. They in turn create echo chambers which reinforce their mentality and behaviour, much to the detrimental to their personal growth and the advancement of society. While one may be deemed an expert with deep knowledge in his/her field, without broad understanding of other disciplines, actions and decisions made would often be flawed.

Whether we like it or not, that is how our media have evolved in order to attract our eyeballs and stickiness by overwhelming us with as much as what we desire and none of those we dislike. That includes all media except newspaper.

The inability for the oldest medium to offer much personalisation like how its younger brethren: radio, TV and Internet have done so marvellously well, is perhaps the only reason why it excels in preserving the one quality none of the latter offers – serendipity.

If you like me, have the habit of reading a newspaper from cover to cover, you would have gotten a snapshot of the day’s major areas of interest - world trends, money and business, science and technology, social and culture, not forgetting, sports and entertainment – thereby sowing the seed for you to make fortunate discoveries by accident, expanding your horizon and gaining new insights that challenge your mindset.

Say an award-winning chef who is only interested in keeping himself up-to-date in areas of nutrition and retail, chanced upon a story on the advent of 3D food printing in the technology section of a newspaper, which could very well be the spark that created the proverbial light-bulb above his head on his future business forays.

You may counter that this hypothetical chef would also have this experience of serendipity if he goes online and let the digital nature takes its course. But with news-aggregating websites equipped with highly-sophisticated algorithms tracking your online history and surfing habits, chances of you picking up a totally random but useful story outside your comfort zone is very remote. You wouldn’t look for something that you don’t know.

Even the online version of your newspaper would not offer you the same level of serendipity as the print version since you will most likely click and swipe only at your favourite categories and leave the rest for future browsing which will invariably not materialise when you are faced with other distractions and pursuits.

Reputable newspapers around the world follow the industry commandment of ‘educate, inform, and entertain’ their readers and thus provide an objective look at presenting the daily news you SHOULD know, not just those you WANT to know. Stories are selected, sieved and scrutinised by experienced human editors, not software curators.

Since young, I have been inculcated with the habit of reading newspaper everyday to feed my ferocious appetite for knowledge and information. Today’s news is never tomorrow’s fish wrap for me as I often tear out unread stories that interest me for future reading. Every page provides a window to a different world and culture far beyond what my school textbooks can offer. Newspaper can very well become my essential ‘Dummies' guide to living an enchanted life’.

Before anyone accuse me of being a Gen X Luddite, let me assure you that I grew up in a family that still revolves around the television, and I started surfing the web using dial-up modem back in the days when Google was still a young upstart.

Since then, TV has transformed from a tiny 4:3 square box to a 60-inch multimedia high-definition 16:9 monster offering hundreds of channels. Cyberspace has inextricably affected all aspects of our lives irreversibly for better or worse.

However, the printed medium of newspaper has remained steadfastly unchanged, and yet it is able to rival the best of what TV and internet have to offer, by making sense of the world, one word at a time.

For those who have not touched a set of printed newspaper in their lives before, I urge you to spend just 10 minutes to flip from the first page to the last. If the headline captures your attention, proceed to the first paragraph. Still interested after that? Go on to the next paragraph and so on. Once you are bored, proceed to the next headline and so on.

I guarantee you that by the time you reach the last page, you would have picked up something new that you wouldn’t have should you be spending that same amount of time browsing the web or watching the telly.

American playwright and essayist Arthur Miller once said that “a good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself”. If you decide to join in the conversation, I am sure you will have the most educated, informed and entertained dialogue you could ever imagined.

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