Our Opinion: Room for old, new in a changed society

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COVID-19 will bring about changes to our society, some temporary, some permanent. We hope that a respect for our health care and retail workers and the realization that preparation for the unlikely but possible is demanded of government will be among the permanent changes.

But there shouldn't be a rush to throw out the old in favor of the new if the old remains workable. Here are a few examples.

CBS, Fox News and the Washington Post have in recent days speculated that COVID-19 will lead to the end of paper money. This speculation comes even though health experts say that the risk of the spread of coronavirus by paper is quite low compared to other routes of transmission.

Obviously we have a bias in favor of paper money here in the Berkshires, where Crane Currency in Dalton has printed U.S. currency paper for 140 years. We've lost enough employers. But while the trend to credit and debit card purchasing and banking will continue to escalate, there is a lot to be said for old-fashioned paper not subject to hacking and online theft. Hackers outnumber pickpockets.

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Social isolation has surely produced an appreciation among many for the pleasures of cooking and dining at home. Or it may have produced a longing for dining at restaurants, being served good food in a pleasant setting with other diners creating a warm and bustling atmosphere.

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Berkshire restaurants will at some point this summer be reopening with plenty of safety guidelines and customer limits that will take getting used to. These restaurants are part of our social fabric, employ people and pay taxes. They will have to be a part of the COVID-19 world and the world that comes after it.

Movie theaters have been declared on the way out since the invention of the video cassette and the bell is tolling once again. The argument is: Why go into a theater when there are so many movie options available at home through cable, satellite and streaming?

But imagine Great Barrington without the Triplex, Pittsfield without the Beacon and Williamstown without Images. Those movie theaters are critical components of their respective downtowns, economically and socially. They provide a communal experience that people may want more of rather than less of following the isolation of quarantines and lockdowns. And no one's home system can provide the big screen spectacle and surround sound roar of a state-of-the-art movie theater. Movie theaters will also be tentatively returning to business and their successful return is important to communities as well as movie buffs.

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In a column in the Washington Post, director Christopher Nolan, whose "Tenet" is the best blockbuster hope for whatever the summer movie season turns out to be, made a strong case for the importance of movie theaters. Mr. Nolan pointed out that when B&B Theatres in Missouri, a chain founded in 1924, shut down its 418 Midwestern theaters, more than 2,000 people were suddenly out of work. This was repeated in larger and smaller scales throughout the country, including the Berkshires.

Criticizing the media for pitting forms of entertainment against each other "as if they were in some Darwinian competition for people's attention," Mr. Nolan argues there is room for all forms, and "in uncertain times there is no more comforting thought than that we're all in this together, something the moviegoing experience has been reinforcing for generations." He articulates a case for federal aid to theaters that have had to close their doors and a return to them by patrons when the time and circumstances are right.

Moving forward, let's pursue a fruitful combination of the traditional and the new in our changed society. Doing so will make that society a better one than before the coronavirus struck.


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