Sudden change, even if it is for the good, is disruptive. Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister, Malaysia
Its the place where Ive met many a blind date, a place to nervously page through newspapers and magazines as I wait for a mystery woman to show up. Its the place to meet my Goddaughter for dinner, as I take the T in from the burbs and she strolls over from the yard. Its the place I rarely shop anymore but a place whose presence, sure and steady, strong and true, right in the heart of Cambridges Harvard Square its a place that I will miss when it closes up shop at the end of next month.
Its Out of Town News, a purveyor of all things journalistic: newspaper broad sheets and tabloids from all over the United States and the world, a seller of hundreds of magazines, everything from "Popular Mechanics" to "Playboy." The place to buy a map if you are a tourist, cigarettes if you are smoker, or a Coke to slake your thirst on a hot summer day.
First built as a subway entrance in 1927, in 1954 it opened its narrow doors for business in a squat brown building that sits at the busiest intersection in the square. For 65 years its sold the news, from near and far. Like New York Citys Grand Central Station clock, Out of Town News is a place that most everyone knows, easily recognizable and an absolute perfect landmark to meet.
But on Oct. 31, unless some last-minute Halloween miracle saves this venerated institution, it will go away, the building staying, but the business shuttered for good. It wasnt a zoning problem that closed Out of Town News, nor sky-high rent. Cambridge, which owns the building, is planning to renovate that piece of valuable real estate, and the current owner of the store has said he will not renew the lease.
Yet beyond this seemingly simple business decision, what really killed Out of Town News is me, and you, and millions of other folks who still consume the news, read the news, follow the news but now do so through our screens. Who needs actual physical containers for the news made of paper and ink when with a tap on a smartphone or computer mouse we can get the news and so much faster and more up to date and all so conveniently?
The fancy term for this type of social shift is disruptive innovation. Though the entrepreneurs who create and exploit such innovation in 2019 think Amazon, Uber, or Google might imagine they are the pioneers of such disruption, the truth is that disruptive change has been going on forever. Its hard-baked into the human condition. God gave us brains to think and so we do just that and we constantly build upon the innovation and creations of the past to move into tomorrow.
So, the horse and buggy were killed by the car. The telegram was killed by the telephone. The movies killed burlesque and then TV was supposed to kill the movies but now Netflix just might kill both the movies and cable TV. Facebook and other social media are radically reshaping how community is formed and so even the place I work, a church, a 2,000 plus year old institution we are being radically disrupted too.
I will miss Out of Town News. Miss the visceral feel of the printed page as I flip through a magazine or newspaper. I still miss the black ink that used to stain my hands as a newspaper boy in Springfield, Massachusetts, so, so long ago.
But the economy, all of life: it does not run on nostalgia, on looking backwards, on staying put. We cannot return to an era when America was supposedly great because that is not the way that time or the human experience works. We humans are a restless lot, created by a God who gives us the power to think, to change, to grow, to innovate and to reach for the stars.
Along that path, as we shift from one way of doing things to another, it can be hard to bid farewell to the familiar and the comfortable and the known. But the truth is that innovation and disruption happen, and not just because some vague outside force wrenches us into the future.
Disruption happens because of us. Factories in the United States close not just because of corporate greed. They close because we demand cheaper consumer goods. Clothes that cost as little as possible. Appliances so inexpensive that when they break, we just throw them away. We demand the news: not a day late, not on a 24-hour timer, but now- right now!
We dont buy the news at Out of Town News anymore.
And thats a shame. And thats reality. And thats good and thats bad and thats the way this amazing world works. As to a new place to meet my blind dates: any suggestions?
The Rev. John F. Hudson is senior pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn (pilgrimsherborn.org). If you have a word or idea youd like defined in a future column or have comments, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or in care of the Press (Dover-Sherborn@wickedlocal.com).
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