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The Issue

Let’s Get Physical

When I popped a CD into my car stereo and it instantly began playing, my fourteen-year-old son’s eyes bugged out. “How did you do that?” he said. You’d think I had traveled to the future and brought back the sound system from the Starship Enterprise. “Well,” I said, “I didn’t have to boot up my iPod. And I didn’t have to scroll through menus, searching for the album. I guess you could call it magic.”

That’s the beauty of the physical world versus the virtual. Over the last few million years, humans have gotten pretty good at manipulating objects. So when information is bound to an object like a CD or a book, we know where that information is, and we know how to file, organize, and retrieve it.

Which brings me to one of my periodic sermons in defense of print magazines. A print magazine offers something that an online magazine usually doesn’t—a distinct experience, with a beginning, middle, and end. You start with an intention: “I will pick up this issue of Tufts Magazine, open it, and investigate.” As you flip through, you receive a cascade of sensory cues—images, headlines, highlighted names and dates—to help you home in on parts of the magazine that interest to you. Then, as you tuck into an article, you are free to get on with it. You are not distracted by email notifications or pop-ups or links to some really cool video over at www.bozo.com.

When you read Tufts Magazine in print, you stay in Tufts Magazine—you won’t turn a page and find yourself reading Yale Alumni Magazine instead. And when you’re done, you put down the magazine, concluding your experience.

Online, a magazine risks becoming just another eddy in the lazy current of information. You drift in from some other website. Then you graze awhile, until yet another website catches your fancy. Whereupon you drift out, barely aware that you’ve crossed any borders in either the coming or the going. Have you had an experience or not?

A physical object consumes resources, without a doubt (mitigated, in the case of Tufts Magazine, through sustainable forestry and recycled paper). Yet it also provides utility you won’t find in cyberspace. It’s like food versus pictures of food, hugs and kisses versus x’s and o’s, life versus lala-land. We are very glad to have you visit us online at go.tufts.edu/magazine, and would never deny the many advantages of Web publishing. But if you want to read a real magazine, read us in print.

Calling all bloggers. Speaking of effective Web use, Tufts Roundtable—a new online forum founded by undergraduates—enables the Tufts community to share blogs and other media. Sign up at tuftsroundtable.org.

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