Crosscurrents: Musing About eReaders in 1981

When eReaders were only a speculation…

The year is 1981. It is winter in Sacramento. The weather is cold and gray by California standards. I have just been fired from my job as Associate Publisher of Sacramento Magazine. Mark Johnson, the owner’s son, felt I was over stepping my authority on some matter too small to be remembered 29 years later. I suspect he was right.

My magazine publishing career has been on a roller coaster for several months. My personal life has been along for the ride. The most stable thing in my life is my role as a journalism student at CSUS. I am a senior with three semesters to go until I graduate (more on that in a second or two). I did manage to get fired in time to shift my full class load from nights to days. Journalism Lab is only offered as a day class, so I have seized the opportunity and enrolled. I have written for the school paper (The State Hornet) in past semesters and know the student editor, Gina Spadafori, and like working with her.

I drop by Gina’s office to get assigned a beat and she puts me into the general assignment pool, and the copy desk as a headline writer. Many of the student staffers have taken the Journalism Lab numerous times for credit and for the experience. Gina was the Sports Editor in her junior year. I am simply not eligible for any of the cool jobs. Even though I am a senior, I am a newbie in the Journalism Lab and dues must be paid before promotion is an option at The Hornet.

At age 25, I am perhaps the oldest student in the CSUS journalism program. Although I have been a writer and producer for AFRTS and Associate Publisher for Sacramento Magazine, I am a newbie at The Hornet. Gina seems pleased to have me on the team. Moreover, she seems pleased that I will be putting my college education first, for the first time in my life. Although I have amassed more than the 120 credits required for a BA, they have largely been accumulated through CSUS night classes and transfer credits from my studies at Nuclear Power School. My switch to a journalism major from nuclear engineering means I will need more than 160 credits to graduate. And this means I will have a second senior year after Gina has graduated and left me to fend for myself at The Hornet.

A few weeks pass and Gina calls me into her office. She explains that the Journalism School has historically published a Rolling Stone-sized feature magazine in the spring of each year called Crosscurrents. It seems that Crosscurrents has been cut from the schedule for 1981 due to a budget shortfall. If I can find a way to fund it, the job as Crosscurrents’ Editor is mine. We discuss the required revenue and are joined by the paper’s advertising director. Given the time constraints, we decide on a single sponsor “Hail Mary” strategy. We map out the issue giving the sponsor the inside front cover, center spread and back cover. By 5PM, we have a commitment from the Valley’s largest beer distributor to back the issue.

And so a few months later, I find myself writing my first column as the editor of a magazine. It will be the first of hundreds, but at the time, I only know it as my first. I conclude that the column needs to be fun and hopefully memorable in a way that might still make it interesting for someone looking back on it decades after they graduate.

With our Kindle for Publishers Webinar coming up fast, I was reminded of the conversations we had in college about the future of periodical publishing, the rise of eReaders and the end of paper. In 1981, it was all wild speculation. In 2010, this column can only be read via Mequoda Daily on our periodical website, in our email newsletter and on a Kindle.

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So here in its entirety is my column from Crosscurrents, published on May 15, 1981…

“Klink,” the sound of metal hitting metal. Your shuttle is finally docking.

“For your convenience and safety, please remain in your seat with your seat belt fastened until the ship has come to a complete stop and the captain has turned off the ‘fasten seat belt’ sign,” chatters the stewardess.

The ship jostles once more and comes to rest. The ‘fasten seat belt sign’ goes off.

“On behalf of your entire Earth Two based crew, we hope you have enjoyed your short trip and we look forward to seeing you soon on another Pan Am flight,” she rattles along.

Why don’t they just use a prerecorded tape, you think.

You really expected more from your first space flight, but your thoughts are turning to the grandson who should be waiting for you outside. Five years is a very long time to not see a grandson.

Will you even recognize him? He was only 17 when you last saw him. He is a man now—one who is about to graduate from college.

You hurry out into the receiving area.

“Jan!” he yells, running up to hug you.

There go at least two ribs, but you smile and hug him back as hard as you can.

“Aren’t mom and dad with you?” he asks.

“No, no, they’ll be along tomorrow afternoon,” you reply.

“Well, how are you? How’s the old house? Do you like being retired? Can you stay past the graduation ceremony? There’s an awful lot to see up here and we’ve got an awful lot to catch up on!”

“Do you always talk so fast?” you ask, trying to hide your smile.

“I’m sorry, but we do have a lot to catch up on,” he replies.

Now begins the grand tour of this earth away from Earth. The government offices. The hydroponic farms. The sports stadium. The shops and stores. And finally the university—Earth Two University.

Pride in your grandson. Fascination with this city. What a day. Old folks shouldn’t try to keep up with their grandchildren, but you’d never admit that.

“Bobby,” you finally say, “I could go on for hours, but we really should get home for dinner.”

“Oh sure,” he replies, “I just get carried away about this whole place—especially the university. It’s gotten to be like a home away from home to me.”

Bobby’s apartment is nice and very collegiate. Some of the artifacts on the wall could not have been bought. After dinner Bobby insists you rest in the living room while he takes care of the dishes. Now there’s a switch.

“Is this your college newspaper?” You take the shiny rectangle from its resting place on the couch.

“Yeah,” he yells from the kitchen. “It’s got the last issue of the year on it.”

You press the button in the bottom right corner and the screen flickers on.

“Carl Sagan to speak at grad ceremony,” reads the front-page headline. It figures, you think, even if he is over 100.

You punch the paging button, reading only the headlines as you go. Tuition, conservation, student politics, movies, concerts—it’s all there. Some things never change.

You thumb past a few more pages and stop to stare at a magazine cover inside the newspaper. “Space Currents” it reads across the top.

“Bobby!” you yell at the kitchen.

“Yeah,” he responds.

“Did you see this Space Currents magazine?”

“Sure,” he replies. “The newspaper staff wanted to do something special for the end of the year. You know—other than the regular newspaper.”

Garbage dumping in space. Space sledding. Earth Two nightlife. Minor league star hockey. It reminds you a lot of your old college magazine.

You remember running across a copy. It was called Crosscurrents. Stored away with old family picture albums and various yearbooks, there it had been. The pages had been old and yellow, but the memories were still there. You must have spent an hour looking through it and rereading some of the stories.

The main story had been on white water rafting. You’d never hit the white water, but had sure spent a lot of hours drifting down the lower American River with a six-pack dragging behind.

There had also been a story on one of the first dams they built in the Sierras. Strangely enough, dams like that eventually eliminated all rafting in California. A lost sport.

Nightlife had gotten its fair shake in the magazine. And why not—that had been of everyone’s best subjects in college. There had even been a special piece on boxing, that crazy old sport. Can you imagine people pummeling each other on a piece of canvas? Barbaric.

And then there had been a real wild story called “The Broken Neck Man.” You had even known the Italian kid who wrote it. Last time you had heard, he was still writing about sports in New York. Some people would just not retire.

That magazine had been quite a find. A neat little package of college life stored away to aid a failing memory.

Of course there was plenty that they didn’t print. Some probably they couldn’t print.

“Bobby,” you look up from the now blank square to find him intently watching you.

“Yeah,” he smiles, “what were you thinking about?”

“Oh, just a little bit of history,” you reply. “You really ought to keep this little magazine, you know.”

“Yeah I guess I should,” he says. “It could be pretty fun to look back at some day.”

“Yes, I’ll bet it could,” you say. “I’ll bet it could.”

•      •      •

May your memories be with you always.


    Hi Gina:

    I wondered if you would see my little walk down memory lane.

    Hope life has been good for you and continues to get even better.

    Happy 201,


    Gina S.

    Wow, do you have a great filing system and an even better memory! Thanks for this blast from the past.



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