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Fast Forward

How quickly the norm becomes obsolete

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There it lay on my desk, unwanted, an alien thing that nobody was quite sure what to do with.

“What is that?” one person asked.

“Why?” another exclaimed.

“It” was an honest-to-goodness, printed-on-paper-and-stuffed-into-an-envelope press release. It cost 38 cents to send and took (because of an intervening weekend) five days to arrive where it now rested, ugly in concept as a beached jellyfish yet with loveliness in the weight of its expensive cream paper and the authority of the gold crest in the embossed return address.

And let me not forget to mention that the date of the supposed news the release purported to announce was two days previous to the postmark. So, seven days after the fact. An entire week.

“Why?” that person asked again, the outrage and puzzlement evident in her voice. “They email dozens of press releases a week, so why not this one?”

There was, indeed, nothing special about this artifact of the past. But it was among a flurry of reminders that came across my (virtual) desk this week about how quickly the norm becomes obsolete. What we take for granted can vanish without our even noticing until it suddenly pops up and we realize we hadn’t seen it for a long while.

Right on the heels of the paper press release came a comment in a story I was editing for this week’s edition of the Business Journal. Asked how his business had changed over the past decade or so, the interviewee mentioned faxes and how nobody uses them anymore. (Note to PR people: While we still have mail delivery, the newsroom does not have a fax machine.)

Then the Wall Street Journal published a heart-warming tribute to the pencil – specifically, the Palomino Blackwing, so popular among writers and a subset of other implement-wielding professionals that it’s been revived. You can buy a box of two dozen, with a special two-step sharpener (one for the wood, one for the lead) for $120. Some pencil.

And how old-school, I thought. While I know people who still use pencils in their work (traditional and mechanical), didn’t the Bic – a superior, low-maintenance product -- do away with pencils forever? Pens are such a commodity today that unless you’re really picky about color, heft and nib, you never have to buy one because so many businesses give them away.

Then I read in the New York Times about the death of the pen, slain by the keyboard and the smartphone.

Is nothing sacred? I love pens – though, truth be told, I use them less and less myself.

As with the Blackwing, you can still spend hundreds of dollars on a Montblanc, Waterman or other luxury brand of writing implement. (At those prices, the terms “pencil” and “pen” seem too plebian.) But are those for utility or for display? Is deliberately rooting oneself in the past just another way of showing the world you have money to burn -- and minions to do the typing?

Suddenly I see that unknown person who carefully printed the press release nobody wanted. I see him (or her) proudly hitting “send,” walking over to the printer, carefully folding the pages, neatly inserting them into the envelope and carrying it down to the mailroom – perhaps with numerous companions destined for other news organizations. Maybe he (or she) hoped it would stand out or gain special treatment from looking and feeling “special.”

But technology has killed the traditional paper press release. Newsrooms no longer have the clerks who spent their days slicing open envelopes, clipping pages to typing stands and inputting copy – nor do they have the time. News moves too fast. Today, we have editors and reporters constantly scanning inboxes for nuggets to be turned into stories.

So keep those press releases coming. You can even use fancy letterhead if you want. But save yourself time and money. When you hit the “send” button, make sure it’s to our email address, not to your printer.

That address is

The week ahead

A York businesswoman believes in her community so strongly she’s putting not only her business but herself behind the effort to build its brand. Find out who and why in reporter Joe Deinlein’s story coming this week.

John Hilton talks to a business owner who thinks he may have found an answer to growth at his company during a challenging time for the trucking industry.

And Heather Stauffer has the latest installment on change in the health insurance landscape and how it could affect your business.

The lists this week are SBA lenders and fast-growing companies in Dauphin and Cumberland counties.

Find the week’s networking opportunities here.

The rewind

Last week, I wrote about the bad rap Millennials keep getting in the media. I wish this story had been available then to help right the balance: They are also today’s military, and they’re coming home from war looking for education, employment and a fair shake after the sacrifices they’ve made for the country.

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