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New Horizons and Points of View

New signs of the times, from Mansfield to New York.

You'd be surprised at how many of this community's local children, once graduated from our suburban high school and then college, have moved to New York City. I guess this is some kind of a compliment to a public education giving them the freedom to make choices that eventually take them away from their old home-town, and even their region. Certainly it is our fondest wish as parents, that our kids envision a horizon beyond what we could have realized, even in our wildest dreams. I do acknowledge that, albeit begrudgingly.
Nonetheless, here I am on another visit to the only grandchild, with a long train trip ahead of me, one of many, jammed into an Amtrak on a regional route that snakes along the coast, chugging by sweetly snug communities tucked in on the ocean side, old wharfs abandoned for the winter months with their tenant sailboats sitting on the shore in wooden cradles, swathed in shrink-wrap, blank-eyed mansions looking out on a grey sea. It is always a long haul, this time crammed into an aisle seat beside a man in an evil-colored knit cap who reads graphic novels and hacks, snorkels, and honks his nose unremittingly while I hang over the aisle with the most recent John Le Carre mystery and try not to get exposed to whatever this guy has brought on board.
I sat with my Brooklyn-based granddaughter this weekend after I finally arrived, reading "Charlie the Farm Dog" by The Pioneer Woman and listening to a CD soundtrack to Mary Poppins, in a seventh-floor apartment across from a pediatric ER and a frost-bitten park, where the only living creatures in evidence during the winter are scraggly squirrels, ubiquitous pigeons, and an occasional red-tailed hawk.
At one point I brought out a newspaper I had tucked into my carry-on from home, to show my son, now 38, that his old alma mater, Pinecroft School, had moved from Pine Street in Norton to Rehoboth, at the end of January, in the year of their 30th anniversary. 
My little granddaughter, a smidge over two years old, moved in beside me to look over my arm at the paper, as I turned the pages.
"What is that Grammie?," she said, pointing to the big floppy paper thing. I told her it was a newspaper, with stories of people and animals. She reacted with great interest. Her apartment and her room are lined with her books, almost all of which she knows by heart, but she was unfamiliar with this awkward collection of fluttering pages.
I mentioned this to her dad, my son, with some amazement, and he said that was understandable - the only print publications they had now were three magazines - "Martha Stewart," "Dwell," and the "New Yorker." Everything else, he said, came in on his phone or on his laptop.
Including, as it turned out, the shocking death of icon Whitney Houston, whose soaring, three-octave supercharged gospel voice captured a nation and the love-starved world. That news flash arrived at bedtime, via I-Phone.
As a print media veteran, I understand the value of the headline, and more recently, the wonder of the simple thumb-click. Houston's rise to stardom from the little girl in the church choir to the footlights of the award stage, pinioned under the unremitting glare of the television and Internet media, has been documented pitilessly in both print and film. Her fall from grace was only a web site away. The senseless end of her life, similarly delivered.
The world has changed so fast. It is nowhere more obvious than in a train station or on the train itself. Look around - everyone has a screen of some sort attached to their field of vision, including me. Everyone. One little old guy sitting next to me on a bench did not, but even he had a cell phone. He must have been 85.
My granddaughter has never seen a newspaper. 

Dick Armour February 14, 2012 at 12:31 PM
A wonderful piece of writing! To update and paraphrase Henry David Thoreau, "Most people today lead lives of endless distraction." It is in the empty space and the empty time that our divinity is found. New York is the Mecca for the ego. Our newest religion, psychiatry, is the worship of the ego. And our technology gives us the toys that keep us children.
Ted Casher February 14, 2012 at 01:01 PM
Hey, Merri---always glad to see your writings in the Patch! I will always remember that MHS bass clarinet student, mature beyond her years, who was always so serious! And is Casey the father of that granddaughter who has never seen a paper? I lost track of him after Foxboro Jazz Improvisation Camp! He showed great promise as a keyboard player. Are you on FB? If so, I will friend you. My drummer son, Zac has the West Street house; I am living in Bridgewater, and I still play tenor, clarinet, and flute! There is also a bass clarinet lurking in my closet, to be brought out for shows, if needed. All the best to you and yours, Ted Casher
Bob Havey February 15, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Nice column, Meredith! When you spoke of visiting your granddaughter in New York, I was reminded how fortunate I am to have three grandkids close by; one within a mile and the other two only one town away. It’s such a blessing! To your larger point, it amazes me how technology has taken over our lives, albeit for the better or the worse. I’ve spent the vast majority of my adult life in the newspaper and publishing industries, both of which, as you said, have been inexorably changed. I’m sure it’s inevitable that soon we will no longer know the comforting feeling of holding a real book in our hands as the technology of the digital age becomes the banner of the publishing industry. I know that’s considered progress, but it’s sad. Soon there will be no libraries as we once knew them, no bookstores; no newspapers or magazines. I only pray that with all these technologies, Twitter, Facebook, Email, Texting and the like; the art of face-to-face human interaction doesn’t become extinct.


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