Tuned In

Dead Tree Alert: The Zipper—Making You Vaguely Nervous Since 2001!

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Illustration by Francisco Caceres for TIME

The special issue of TIME now on newsstands, Time Frames, is a look back at, and update on, some of the signal events and developments over the past 10 years. The editor of the issue, Nancy Gibbs, asked me if I was interested in doing a Tuned In column about a particular TV event or show that captured the spirit of the decade. After thinking about it, I realized that what best symbolized the last decade in media for me was not so much a TV show as a TV thing: the “zipper,” or “crawl,” which has had specialized uses on TV channels forever, but became a regular fixture of cable news screens the morning of 9/11 and remained, in some form, to this day.

Besides being a tool—and I’ll admit a sometimes useful one, at least when I’m using the treadmill with the sound off on the TV at the gym—it’s a statement: one that sends the message of constant alert, constant stimulation, constant overload, and that often (like much of the media) does little to distinguish the banal from The Most Important/Awful/Amazing Thing Ever. It may occasionally disappear from the screen, or morph into a more-genteel “flipper,” but the pace of the news zips on. Read it here.