This is a republished version of an article I wrote for the March 2011 issue of ICON magazine. I feel an obvious tinge of hypocrisy posting it online but, hey, I gotta get my work out there just like anyone else. It has been republished with permission. Just pretend you're reading it in print.
Have fun with your Nook -- I'll still be browsing the newsstand.
By R. Kurt Osenlund
What you hold in your hands is a labor of love. Roll your eyes and call me a hopeless sap, but it's true. A whole team of people poured their guts into the content on these pages, and we're more than happy to know that some of it might smudge its way onto your fingers and literally stick with you after you've finished reading. We're pleased with the fact that you can roll up our work and shove it into your purse, fold it in half and slip it into your pocket, or file it away in a stack you might later dust off and revisit. We like that you can touch what we create, and we like that, once you've had your fill, you end your experience not by clicking a tab or minimizing an app, but by very symbolically and very romantically closing a book.
I'm 27 – three months older than Mark Zuckerberg. I'm part of the generation responsible for transferring the vast majority of our media consumption from the page to the screen, whatever dimensions, picture quality and degree of portability that screen may boast. I'm deeply grateful to be a young and hungry professional in the era of digital dominance, if only for the exposure and resources it affords. Any professional advancement I've achieved has come, at the very least, via an e-mail exchange or the cyber-broadcasting of my byline, and in terms of my everyday work, it is virtually impossible for me to fathom how writers and editors got by in the days of analog journalism. It would be like removing every bit of equipment from a quarry worker's arsenal and leaving him with a wee hammer and chisel. I'll admit that about 80 percent of my own media consumption takes place online, and that includes reading the latest national headlines, devouring the latest celebrity scandal, following the work of the writers I admire, and, yes, browsing oodles of material brought to my attention via Twitter and Facebook.
When computing all the pessimistic points, specifically in regards to journalism, the key issue I always return to is just that: the issue. Reveling in the point-and-click immediacy, you may well turn to the Web for the newest updates on Gabrielle Giffords and Hosni Mubarak, or peruse the hottest Fashion Week couture while dodging ads and subscription offers in a slideshow on Vogue.com. But never will you find online the distinct, bookended art of a printed issue – an issue with an encapsulated voice, perspective, theme and design. By nature, the Internet is a universe of instantaneous information, and no Web site thrives without delivering near-constant updates. Thus, your experience with a webzine, or with a print outlet's online presence, is never complete. Such a thoroughly modern, Zuckerbergian notion is surely exhilarating to some, and there's no denying the luster of limitless variety or the satisfaction of getting what you want when you want it. But another kind of satisfaction – the gratification of having gathered a concise collection of words and images in the precise manner in which a skilled group intended it to be gathered – is lost online, lost in the sea of lethally efficient and furiously fast data that, however useful and attractive, undermines artistic value in our society.
A few weeks ago, the annual Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue fell through my mail slot. It might be my single favorite piece of continually printed media. Have you seen this year's beaut? There on the gilded, maroon cover, decked out as if plucked from a Josef von Sternberg movie, are the dashing likes of Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway and James Franco. Pull out the three-panel cover, and the rest of Norman Jean Roy's stunning group photo is revealed: Jennifer Lawrence, Anthony Mackie, Jesse Eisenberg, Olivia Wilde, Andrew Garfield, Noomi Rapace and five others are lined up across a swanky bar, looking out enticingly and beckoning you to pay the cover charge. Inside, the eye candy surges on with, among other things, the requisite portfolio of Hollywood portraits, an aesthetic high point for a publication that delivers a monthly gush of brilliant shots.
Magazines such as this, and even newspapers in all their halftone glory, serve as your personal scrapbooks of the work of supreme contemporary artists, be it original photography or pre-produced imagery collected and compiled for your consumption. It's a privilege, really – for a price that rarely exceeds $6, you're given a catalog of windows into potentially hundreds of different worlds, and you own the art in a capacity that's but one degree from its intended state (an un-doctored print). I run a blog, I manage a weekly publication's Web site, and any breaking picture that “must be seen” will almost always reach my eyes via the Screen. But those who contend that viewing the digital rendition of the photography in Vanity Fair – or The New York Times, or GQ, or Sports Illustrated or American Cheerleader – rivals the experience of drinking it in in the real world musn't be trusted. You simply can't beat the sensation of marveling at a printed picture, no matter how many copies of it can be saved to your desktop.