I got engaged in an interesting conversation this morning triggered by Robert Scoble. He wrote:
““We are in the National Press Club where a ton of the most famous newspaper front pages are on the walls. I turned to my 14-year-old son and said “just think, in your lifetime you will see the death of newspapers. He answered: “yeah.””
And then a whole discussion erupted on Friendfeed where the Je/Ne sayers had their way with it. You can find the whole conversation right here. Robert is right about one thing. The business model of newspapers will most likely implode very soon. Printing and delivering news using paper to your home is just too expensive. Advertisers will move their budgets on-line making the traditional newspaper too expensive to produce and deliver. Stowe Boyd wrote a similar piece on that earlier here.
But that is not what interested me in the discussion this morning. I was triggered by one comment by Robert:
Alexander: Funny, the publisher of the Washington Post told me a few years back that a little more than half the people in DC start their morning with the Washington Post. But he admitted he’s losing and that’s why he’s investing like crazy into online media. Personally paper won’t be able to turn the corner. Kids want the immediacy (so do we, look at what’s happening here) and will never accept paper news. Books might be safe for a while longer, but I can see a day where even they are gone
I responded with:
Robert, this immediacy thing. I am not so sure about it. Everyone loves immediacy (I do too), children love it. But I also believe there is a need for balance in life. Not everything needs to be immediate. Kids will grow up and find that balance too, just like we are. Maybe not in newspapers. But I can tell you right now that if everything is immediate, the idea of immediacy will become less important. Everything that comes up must come down 😉
And this is what interests me. This immediacy. The urge to know it all right now. If anything, computer (or web) technology has brought us the capability to be on-line 24×7. Information traveling around the globe at the speed of light. It’s not just the “professional” news services that now offer us a 24×7 near real-time news push. Services like Twitter now beat traditional news organisations at it. Earth quakes, who got fired, who is hired, the next president etc. Breaking news hits Twitter faster than any news service can put it on-line (it’s the power of the 140 char message!). This has lead to an interesting behavior of the tech elite. I call this “our “fear of not being there when it happens”.
Our generation is dealing with that, the next generation won’t know any better. And there is the catch. What if everything becomes immediate. What if the news is there right now, delivered faster than the blink of an eye. What if we all can have 24×7 contact and interaction. What if the “instant” has become part of the plumbing of the Internet? If “instant” becomes the norm, then it will decline in value. If everyone has instant access to the same information, the act itself becomes less valuable.
I think this process of news traveling to us fast than the blink of an eye is unstoppable. It is technology driven, and then user adapted. But once we can, it’ll be less important. The really important stuff will find it’s way to us that way. But a newspaper, or the news, doesn’t just contain “breaking news”. Lucky for us 70% of the information we have to deal with in our lives isn’t urgent. If it were, we wouldn’t have a life. We need to balance the urgent with the non-urgent, the important with the non-important.
Technology will bring us instant access to information. Human nature will balance this and make sure we won’t find “having instant access” important all the time. It’s time to understand that and start building infrastructures and services that acknowledge our urge for “slow” information access and digestion. It is vital to our interactions that I can talk to a friend and hear something I didn’t know. And we all experience this every day, I’m sure. If not, we wouldn’t have anything to talk about.
Newspapers may cease to exist in printed form. News may be delivered within a blink of an eye. Instant access to anything you want or may need may just become a given. The next generation may not even know better than that this was always the case. But it isn’t always important. We will also feel the urge not to be on-line 24×7. To disconnect every once in a while. To let our head get emptied from the constant flow of information. To step out and slow down. If it is always there, we can easily step out of that rat race. And when we are refreshed we simply plunge in again. I propose we pierce through the myth that always on and instant access are the most important thing in life. That’s only half of the story. I’m in for some slow information consumption, how about you?