Kevin Riordan: Digital may dazzle, but analog has the air of authority

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Out of the book, out of the loop, or out of it, period. For refugees from Planet Analog, the future has never looked less welcoming, as we've been reminded lately.

Ever since I got my first telephone, which may well have had a rotary dial (or perhaps a hand crank), I've been "in the book."

But when the latest Verizon directory materialized on my doorstep, I was dismayed to discover that I no longer exist. At least in hard copy.

I've been delisted, and I'm not alone: The new phone books omit the numbers of hopeless romantics who still desire residential "land lines."

Out of the book, out of the loop, or out of it, period. For refugees from Planet Analog, the future has never looked less welcoming, as we've been reminded lately.

Chains such as Borders and FYE are shuttering their own stores, having pretty much finished off the independent booksellers and record shops beloved and browsed by generations, including mine.

Many Blockbuster outlets also are fading to black as DVDs become artifacts - something the workers at Sony's doomed Pitman plant know all too well.

Meanwhile, all-time Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings recently lost his crown to a "super" computer.

The U.S. Postal Service may end Saturday mail delivery, no surprise given the rarity of letters. (I may have written my most recent one on papyrus.)

And New Jersey's cutting-edge Gov. Christie predicts human toll collectors will soon go "the way of the milkman" due to technology.

The ubiquitous Christie may be overly fond of apocalyptic metaphors, but when he talks about an American icon - a toll collector or, say, a president - being replaced, I listen.

Besides, our governor likes YouTube, and so do I. I love all my digital doodads and i-things; I can pretty much measure my life in tech milestones.

At a party in Northeast Philadelphia in 1979, I was mesmerized by Pong (no, not bong). In 1980, I was similarly stunned when I encountered the online community at the home of two pioneering members of a service called The Source.

The next year I listened to tunes on a Walkman and watched a music video for the first time on MTV. The latter inspired me to pay Gimbels $325 for a 19-inch color TV, which I soon attached to a gargantuan VCR, which spawned stacks of tapes, now about as essential as a 78 r.p.m. record.

Or a newspaper, as some seemed to suggest during debates last month about allowing New Jersey municipalities to bypass print by posting legal notices online.

Those hard-to-read blocks of legalese have long constituted a steady, if unspectacular, source of newspaper revenue, particularly for small dailies and weeklies.

That the proposed legislation has run out of political steam is "welcome news on many fronts," says George H. White, executive director of the New Jersey Press Association.

While online legal notices work fine (NJPA aggregates them at www.njpublicnotices.com), uploading them is not as simple (or as cheap) as putting up a news release.

Statutory requirements for the timing and format of legally required public notifications are so rigorous that print provides real "value," White adds.

Indeed, digital may dazzle, but there's something inherently substantial - authoritative, even - about analog.

Take brain cells, which New Jersey's own U.S. Rep. Rush Holt possesses in wondrous abundance.

On Monday, the Democrat from Mercer County totally owned a battle of wits with a version of Watson, the supposedly "super" computer that toppled Jennings on Jeopardy!

A physicist, Holt triumphed during an exhibition sponsored by IBM in Washington. Final score: 8,600 to 6,200.

I'd be impressed with Holt even had he lost.

After all, as a public official, he's still in the phone book.


Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com.