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The Future of Media is Digital

The future of media is digital. Everybody knows this, but we still cling to our print media conventions — trying to convince ourselves that they are somehow better, and hold on with the dire grip of preemptive nostalgia. come sit down, we’re lamenting about yesterdays sad ending, bout the water in me whiskey, the brass [...]

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The future of media is digital. Everybody knows this, but we still cling to our print media conventions — trying to convince ourselves that they are somehow better, and hold on with the dire grip of preemptive nostalgia.

come sit down, we’re lamenting about yesterdays sad ending, bout the water in me whiskey, the brass passed off as gold
another round we’re descending into old time memory of a day when wood was wooden, silver – silver, gold was gold, sweet home was home

so you say you got a wood stove and your second home runs on gas but looks like oak, hell it even gives off smoke and glowing embers, there’s a quilbum on the wall reads home sweet home the loathsome wise words from the road and they call me throwback when i cry remember -Erik Peterson, Old Tyme Mem’ry

Soon there will not be print publications, books, or newspapers — or at least they will be as popular as vinyl records, which is to say, relics of another age. The choice will soon no longer exist to read digitally or on paper, as publishers will eventually take it for granted that you have a digital reading device and no longer offer print editions (and cut production and shipping costs drastically). The books on your shelves are destined to be testaments to another era — like the typewriter, the electric fan, and land line telephones.  Records were exchanged for cassette tapes, cassette tapes tossed for CDs, CDs for digital sound files. The progression of media quickly gets lighter, faster, more portable, better as time goes on. Next up on the chopping block is the paper book, the magazine, and, especially, the newspaper.

The endless wheel of progress spins on. Peace.

Digital media is the future

Digital reading devices have improved by leaps and bounds in recent years, and this trend will continue into the future. It is now just as easy (if not easier) to read on a kindle or a tablet as it is a paper book. You can search for words, phrases, and index terms with digital devices, insert bookmarks wherever you choose — if you turn these things off and then back on again they automatically jump to the page you left off on. Once digital readers are tried their advantages over print becomes obvious. It is just as comfortable to lay down with a tablet, Ipad, or kindle as it is a print book or magazine, and they are far less cumbersome.


Before taking a flight to Colombia I stayed over for a night in Portland, Maine with a couple of friends and long term supporters of Vagabond Journey, Deb and Rick. I looked around their house — the walls were lined with books from floor to ceiling. It was to my great surprise when Deb told me that she had not purchased a print book in years. She had already made the transition to digital reading — using a Kindle and a netbook — and she said she loved the advantages. She then told me a story of trying to go back to reading a print book after years of digital reading and found it awkward and onerous.

“What, so this thing doesn’t even remember what page I’m on?” she joked.

Deb is around 50 or 60 years old, but she firmly lives in the present.


Many people have written to me as a result of a couple recent travelogue entries about digital media (What is Vagabond Explorer magazine? and June 2011 progress report) showing big support for print media, but it occurred to me that they are simply ignorant of digital media — they don’t have the proper devices to read it, they are using lap tops. Many said they do not like reading on a computer screen, but digital media is best read with a Kindle, tablet, or another reading device.  They have not tried this, and do not know the advantages. But they will soon have to. I predict that in 10 years most major magazines, newspapers, and even book publishers will severely limit their print editions, and eventually let them go to their rightful place: the dustbins of history.

Digital media allows for better space usage

Digital devices also have the ability to hold your entire book collection, all your magazines, movies, and even music in a singular device you can hold in your hand and easily take just about anywhere. Look around your house right now, look at your books taking up shelf and wall space, your music, movies, the newspapers laying askance and messy on your dining room table, the magazines in your trash cans, and imagine if they all were not there. How much cleaner would your house be? How much tidier would your life be? How could you better utilize all the space that your physical media now takes up? Perhaps you would no longer need such a big house or apartment or room?

The homes of the future will be free from such clutter, all of this media will be loaded onto a few select digital devices that you can take with you anywhere and pull up whatever media file you want with the touch of a few buttons. This is powerful. Imagine having your entire media collection with you wherever you go.

I have experienced the advantages of digital media to an extreme level while traveling. When I first began traveling, I would carry 5 to 10 books, a collection of music tapes, a walkman, reels and reels of 35mm film, pictures that I got developed, a few magazines, and a bulky camera. This media load constituted a huge portion of my baggage. Today, this load (and about 1,000 times more) is all wrapped up neatly in a couple of lightweight digital devices. I have a laptop, a digital camera, and a kindle. I hope to someday soon reduce this load to a tablet and an all purpose data phone that takes high quality photos and video (it’s coming).

I’ve seen how digital devices have reduced my baggage and clutter while enabling me to access more information, content, movies, and music than I ever dream being possible when I first began traveling 12 years ago. If someone told me in 1999 that I would be able to travel with hundreds of movies, thousands of songs, almost every photo and video I’ve ever taken, and all of my writings, documents, website backups — everything — in a single device that weight only a couple pounds I would have laughed in their face.

But in 2011 it has happened. I can travel around the world, fully run a professional website, publish a digital magazine, and have all of my photos, music, movies, sound recordings, videos, and naked pictures of my wife readily at my disposal on a device that would fit nicely into a pocket of one of those Scottevest travel jackets.

I must stand back here and really look at the road we’ve traveled — I am completely amazed.

Droid tablets make digital reading comfortable and easy

Print media is a waste of resources

My grandchildren (or even my daughter) will probably never purchase or read a print book, they will never order a print magazine, and they will laugh when I tell them that newspapers use to print up hundred of thousands of copies a day, have them distributed by truck and delivered by hand, just to have them thrown out the next day and the cycle repeated over and over again.


Print media is an idiotic use of natural and human resources. Print books, magazines, and newspapers are incredibly inefficient and wasteful methods of publishing, as they are absolutely unnecessary. Look at the stacks of newspapers in bins on the street, watch the mailman delivering magazines, think of all the natural resources — the trees, the fuel, the energy — used to publish print newspapers and magazines. Now realize that all that you see will soon be destroyed, thrown away or recycled, and add into this impression of all the additional resources that are going to be expended for this. Now think of all the print media being made, destroyed, and reconstituted all around the world each and every day.

The production and disposal of print media is a resource usage abomination. 

I am surprised the carbon footprint people are not all over this yet.

Digital media and Vagabond Explorer magazine

In this landscape, the question of whether to publish Vagabond Explorer magazine in print or digitally was hardly even a question. We are preparing for the future, we are not going to use archaic methods of publishing. We are not going to pay 100 X the amount of money and increase our workload 10 fold just to harness an endangered medium of publication. Print media is dying. It is about time.

Vagabond Explorer is made to be as simple as possible. We do not wish to waste thousands of dollars and tens of thousands of sheets of paper and other resources to comply with Neanderthalic conventions. Vagabond Explorer weighs nothing, it doesn’t take up any space, and it can ride with you anywhere on your choice of digital device. It is a travel magazine, made for travelers and proponents of simplified, low cost, living, and, likewise, we use the simplest, easiest to possess, lowest cost, and lowest resource usage methods of publication possible. If it pains you to drop $5 on something you cannot feel or touch, keep in mind that you will never need to clean it up, throw it away, have it get in the way, or even get lost. As it is a digital publication, it will sit in a little invisible place on your hard drive, memory stick, or SD card, always ready and available to read, browse, or reference.

Download Vagabond Explorer – Add to Cart

Digital media is the future conclusion

These words are being spoken about five years too soon, but, mark my words, within your lifetime you very well may have the experience of trying to show a youngster a book and having them laugh in your face — calling you old and then pulling out their digital reading device and pulling up the same title in a matter of moments. Stone tools gave way to steel, swords for guns — when cultures are faced with a better technology, they take it. Borders, the huge American book selling chain, has just gone bankrupt, the writing is on the wall:

Physical/ print media is dead, lets bury the romance and get on with living our time.


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Filed under: Technology

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3720 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

14 comments… add one

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  • Caitlin August 14, 2011, 2:01 pm

    Mmmmmm… I dunno. I think there will always be old fashioned folk like myself who love opening a big paper newspaper in the morning while drinking my coffee, or the soft feeling of paperback pages.

    I almost – ALMOST – got a Kindle this summer. But I just couldn’t do it. I tried out a relative’s Kindle, and it just didn’t feel the same. I’m a dinosaur, I guess, but I like my print media.

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    • Wade Shepard August 14, 2011, 7:55 pm

      Haha, yes, it is good to have sensory habits. Good for you that you live in a country where the street side periodical is still alive and well.

      I would not recommend a Kindle. I have one, but even it is sort of obsolete when compared against the tablets that can do everything.

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      • Caitlin August 14, 2011, 10:55 pm

        Yeah, but the tablets are back lit. The whole idea of getting a Kindle is that it would read more like a book than a computer.

        Yuck!!! I would never want to read a novel on what is essentially a computer screen.

      • Wade Shepard August 14, 2011, 11:07 pm


        Yours was the 4,000th comment on this travelogue! I don’t know what you win. Maybe I will agree with you for once???

        Hmm. how can I muster this. Well, here goes: I’ve only ever read my own magazine on a tablet, and the backlighting seemed vastly less intense than a regular computer. Who knows though how it would be after reading for hours??? Has anyone here ever read a complete book on an Ipad, Droid, or another tablet? How was the experience?

        I do use a Kindle though, and they way the screen looks as close as is necessary to a print book in digital form.

        Well, I tried to agree with you haha. Thanks for the 4,000th comment.

  • Denise August 14, 2011, 3:44 pm

    paper books are an ‘idiotic use of natural and human resources’? That may be true but, there are thousands of things which are pretty much also ‘idiotic’.Should we also get rid of all those?
    Paper books have been around for several hundreds of years, unlike CDs and other examples you mentioned. Paper was invented in the 2nd century AD.
    The first thing I do when I buy a book is put my nose between its pages and smell it….that smell is something I will never get with a digital reader. I respect the fact that you are so fond of digital readers, but ‘making fun of’ or slighlty ridiculing people who still love paper books is a bit too much. You should be a bit more sensitive in this case. What I’m saying is that not everything necessarily becomes obsolete. Some things do, but some inventions have been around for hundreds of years. In the same way that you call people’s use of paper books ‘idiotic’ I could say that your otherwise complete shunning of everyday comforts and technology (apart from your very blogging equipment) is the same. Please don’t take it personally, I really don’t mean it that way, but I’m just working along the same lines of your argument.

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    • Wade Shepard August 14, 2011, 7:48 pm

      Hello Denise,

      Sure, lots of things are idiotic, but this entry is not about lots of things, it is about print media — as in, printing up and distributing millions upon millions of issues of magazines and newspapers each day/ week/ month just to have them become waste paper almost immediately. If something is idiotic why not come up with a better way?

      I don’t think I called the use of paper books idiotic, rather I said that it is an idiotic use of resources.

      Technologies tend to last until some other technology makes them obsolete. People used horses for transportation, to haul gear, and to farm for thousands of years as well, but the internal combustion engine pretty much made this usage of the horse a thing of the past (on a broad scale). Paper media has been around for thousands of years because there has never been a better medium — until now. Sure, people will probably use paper for communicating messages for a very long time from now, but it is my feeling that many of the uses of print media that use extensive amounts of paper — such as books and periodicals — will become almost completely digital in the next couple of decades. There is no reason for it not to other than convention.

      Yes, the smell and feel of a paper book is something that many people seem to cherish. But a lot of people also like the smell and feel of wood burning stoves, but how many have and actually use these anymore? A seemingly better technology usurped them, and, sadly perhaps, on a mass scale convenience and costs often take precedence over sensory pleasures.

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      • Denise August 15, 2011, 1:43 am

        You have mentioned some very good points. My only issue is that the things you mentioned had a certain level of discomfort or annoyance, by which I mean that the invention which took over was in many ways ‘better’. I just don’t see this when it comes to the change from paper print to digital print (apart from the environmental aspect of it, though as someone else has said, I’m not sure how much digital readers are environmentally friendly). For every negative point of paper media I could mention one for digital.
        I also think the problem is that there are different ways of reading. For now, a lot of people are comfortable ‘researching’ on digital media, but not necessarily reading, and the shift, I’m assuming from the feedback you’re getting, is not going to happen overnight.

      • Denise August 15, 2011, 1:50 am

        P.S. You might actually want to read this:

        http://www.azocleantech.com/news.aspx?NewsID=6034 – it’s about paper versius digital media and the environmental impact of both

      • Wade Shepard August 15, 2011, 10:07 am

        Thanks for sharing this link. My major problem with it is that it was published by a paper company with vested interests. Some of its points are valid though there are many others that are omitted: such as the resources needed to grow, harvest, ship trees, the paper making process (including chemical disposal methods), the process of assembling books and magazines and newspapers, the inks used to produce these mediums (and its disposal and byproducts), the man power and resources to actually ship the finished product, and then its disposal or recycling when the customer finishes with it, as well as the fuel needed for all of this shipping. Sure, digital reading devices do take resources and energy to make and run, but they are only occasional purchases, but I do not believe that the energy to collectively run tablets and kindles and laptops can even compare to that used up by the print media infrastructure if looked at in totality. Trees are renewable resources, yes, but I like them better in the ground or being used for resources like wood that can last for many years — rather than a newspaper that becomes trash the day after it is printed.

        If I took all the media that is currently on my laptop, transformed it into its physical form (books, magazines, music, movies, research papers, printed paper) and stacked it all up (it would fill a room) and placed this next to my little netbook, the resource requirements for the production and distribution of each could be shown adequately.

        I am not going to begin campaigning for any sort of media, but it just seems to me that a transition to digital is eminent in the near future. People generally always resist big technological change, but resistance in this regard is often futile. Remember how many people once resisted cellphones with passion? Now look at how many of those people who said, “I will never get a cellphone” now depend on their cellphone.

        Thanks for this discussion, it is good!

      • Wade Shepard August 15, 2011, 10:23 am

        I would have to say that if one technology takes over another then it is, in larger part, seen as being “better” for the society who makes the change. Better is not only a measure of quality, but also price and production costs and resource usage as well. Is gas/ oil heating higher quality than wood? I don’t think so, but it is cheaper and requires less work to use. and this makes it “better.” Is a digital magazine higher quality than a print one? No way, but the same information can be communicated (the essence of the production) for a fraction of the cost and it is easier to acquire and less cumbersome to use.

        Very good last point. Research is done digitally, but leisure reading is often done in print. I suppose for continuous reading, many people feel that print is a better medium, but for research, where you don’t read the piece in entirety and skip around to only the parts that you want to read, digital is a more appropriate medium. These are interesting tendencies to look at. It is my impression that reading a longer publication, like a book, requires a longer span of attention paid just to the book. I do not believe that it is as easy to do this on a digital product. Except for the Kindle — with which you can read without distraction — lap tops and tablets have too many other functions which act as distractions (like email, SM, chatting) which inhibit the thorough reading of a longer work. I believe that it is difficult to read a book on a computer because we are use to doing five things at once when on such a device, and are not accustom to devoting 100% of our attention to any one thing. This is a highly annoying practice when trying to read a book, as it is too easy to become distracted and to check your email 100 times haha. There is this odd “driver’s seat” mentality that is derived from using a computer, if you are not “driving” — clicking between pages, things, tasks — it is easy to feel restless. It would be interesting to see a study of how much longer someone can sit continuously reading a print book compared to a digital one read on a laptop or tablet.

        This is probably the biggest obstacle for digital media becoming widely accepted — there are just too many things competing for your attention when online or when you have access to so much media all at once. The problem with a lot of choice is that it often limits your desire to focus on any one thing — sort of like the difference between looking at a single tree standing alone in a park or trying to focus on just one tree in an entire forest.

        Thanks for this discourse!

      • Denise August 15, 2011, 3:15 pm

        You mentioned some very good points, and I can’t argue with those.
        I just disagree with one. Books for me are easier to carry around than digital readers. With the latter, I’d have to be super-careful not to break/wet/scratch them etc.! My books are well-worn and loved.

        I’m glad that you didn’t take it personally and accepted someone else’s opinion. Not everyone simply accepts what is new, as you very well know. Some people take time to think and make their own choice.

      • Wade Shepard August 15, 2011, 7:55 pm

        Right on there, it is hard to really ruin a book unless you burn it. It is too easy to break electronics though. One drop and your access to all your books, magazines, and other media is gone haha. It doesn’t matter how many books you can carry on your digital device if the thing is broken. As Bob pointed out, these tablets really NEED to have USB slots to easily sync data between devices. Keeping online backup of media is a good idea too.

        Good call on the durability of books vs. digital readers.

        Also, who is going to steal a book? This is good to take a load off the mind.

        Still though, I think these things are going to take over — for better or worse. For me, I like digital reading because I can’t carry a lot of books/ have difficulty getting them in English in some places. But one thing I hate about the Kindle — which was also brought up in this discussion — is that buying books for it is often costs just as much as the print version! I was real surprised to find this out when I first got my Kindle. It sort of pissed me off to pay just as much for invisible dust as I would for something I can hold in my hands. Given that production expenses for digital media should be lower than print the price of digital products should be as well.

  • Bob L August 14, 2011, 9:30 pm

    I see the point in Kindle type devices, but they are not yet for me. The thought of yet another device with rechargeable batteries that will become useless in a few years and have to be replaced (dumped) gives me the willies. I know I will probably add one to my luggage someday, but not yet.

    For books, I have not bought a NEW book in many years. I buy some used books, but mostly I get them from other readers, or free piles or whatever. After I am done, I pass them on to others. I can’t imagine having to pay for books at the crazy prices even on-line books cost.

    For magazines, I only get one that is not part of a club membership, and I pass that one on to others. They all get at least 3 readers each before they perish. I also read a lot of magazines that I pick up from the free piles. These are magazines that I would never subscribe to, but love to read them and pass them on. National Geographic being one of them.

    Being off the grid is not all that unusual during the winter, and paper don’t crash.

    There are lots of reasons to use one, and lots of reasons to stick to paper. I suspect that if I was a full time traveler, I would end up having to get one. I am more likely to get a tablet computer, and I may be sold if a reasonably priced one comes out that makes a good tablet computer as well as a good e-reader and can be converted to be used as a laptop as well. Today that would mean it would also have to have a USB slot. (Hear that Apple?).

    As for the wasted energy of the paper products, it really depends on how much one reads. All those scrapped e-readers can really add up to a lot of wasted energy as well. Still, I have to agree with your original premise that Digital is the way of the future, if not the present.

    No, going back to Orwell’s 1984. What better way to rewrite history than with digital media. If all media becomes not only read, but controlled by electronic devices, they can automatically be rewritten without our even knowing it. Go ahead and try to prove that your digital copy was rewritten. It would take some serious paranoia to believe that it will, or is happening, but………

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    • Wade Shepard August 15, 2011, 10:31 am

      Interesting point about the ability to rewrite history on digital media. Though I don’t think it is possible — there are too many digital copies to change them all, and a digital file can be reproduced and distributed by anybody, not just a publishing house — it is an interesting suggestion. The annals of history can now be consolidated into singular collections — Google has one. This is powerful. But it is my impression that history was generally written with huge subjective slants with big omissions anyway so who cares if the lies of the past are covered up with the lies of the future?

      “The person who controls the present controls the past, the person who controls the past controls the present.”

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