Monday, February 20, 2006

A Ponderable: Web to be dominant media?

Here's something worth pondering on a cold, wet Monday: The Web is about to become the dominant "eyeballs" medium outpacing the reigning champ, TV. Among online consumers it's already neck and neck:
The average online consumer spends the same amount of time on the Web, as the do on TV, a market research firm said.

Respondents to a U.S. consumer survey said they spend 14 hours a week on line, which is the same amount of time in front of a television, JupiterResearch said.
As broadband speeds rise and the platform has more and richer applications and entertainment expect that division to more and more clearly favor the net. Traditional media continues to fade.
'Even the most intensive users of newspapers and magazines spend less time reading these publications than they do online or watching TV,' JupiterResearch analyst Barry Parr said in a statement. 'TV and newspaper companies risk losing an entire generation of users unless they immediately start promoting their online products,'
According to the report book readership has also suffered.

Them's the facts. Is it a good thing or bad?

I'm not sure. People have been complaining about the "new media" since Socrates got put out with the innovation of writing down speech. He thought, with good reason, that writing was a debased, arrogant, and ignorance-making substitute for real conversation.

(Part of Socrates' irritation was that written text just sits there unchanging--it sounds smart but it is completely unresponsive when you argue with it. He was right about that and its "insistence" has turned out to be it greatest power. Ironically, the survival of the Socratic Dialogs and the endless arguments with them that have defined Western philosophy would be impossible without the written dialogs' stubborn resistance to change and the consequent unceasing challenge they represent to later thought on issues.)

Ever since Socrates seminal critique of writing people have criticized new media, often for the very qualities that were to make it powerful and useful. Printing, it was feared, would allow every half-literate burger access to sacred and profound texts they were unprepared to read with understanding. True enough. But in its train came the reformation, the renaissance, the enlightenment, widespread public education and the ideal of an educated, democratic state. Much of modern history can be read as a struggle to be worthy of the printing press.

The Telephone, Radio, TV, and now the Internet...we've not had time to adapt to these media nor even to be confident that they won't go the way of the telegraph, subsumed by more powerful descendents.

But beyond any hesitation to leap to a too-quick condemnation of the Web as a media there is also the question of the web's plasticity. There's no single medium there. It can imitate other media and intergrate them all. The web has been compared to a printing press, to a huge encyclopedia, to the postal service and more.

The evidence is rolling in that, whatever it is, the web is powerfully attractive and that it can be the basis for a less passive, more creative relationship with media. It's hard to passively consume the web. Not only are many people creating web content but the simple act of unceasingly choosing what you view every few minutes is a radically different starting point for experiencing media.

So...it's worth thinking seriously about the evidence that shows a rapid transformation of online users into people whose dominant media environment is the web. Good or bad? What's exciting is that it's probably our generation and the several that follow us that will determine the answer to that question.

Part of the fun of living in Lafayette is that we will be out ahead of the curve on this as big broadband comes in with the fiber build and thus in a position to have a hand in setting the patterns for use for a maturing media. Part of the responsibility, too.

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