The speed of change is increasing and taking our society in ever more unexpected directions

Ever since digital communication became the big thing that it now is, people have been asking if this is the end of… well everything from paper-based communication to civilisation itself.

Turns out it isn’t, but curiously it could be the end of TV. For a survey by Ofcom (the technology regulator in the UK) and a similar study in the US by the research company, Neilson, found that the level of TV watching by teenagers is in significant decline. What’s on the up is watching YouTube.

The latest Ofcom study of media watching has found that only 8% of 12 to 15 year olds said they used email, while just 3% said they communicated using a landline phone.

Younger people were also found to have an advanced understanding of technology devices, with six-year-olds having the same level of knowledge as the average 45-year-old.

So the old joke of a middle-aged person pondering an IT problem and then asking for a six year old child in order to solve it has a real basis. (Actually that has never been a joke with me. I regularly do that.)

The poll also indicated that those aged 16-24 are likely to do more than one task at a time, pushing 14 hours of media activity into each day in just over nine hours. Since it has been established that the result of multi-tasking is invariably an increase in errors this would suggest they live in an error strewn world. One only has to consider how many text messages go to the wrong person to see this in practice.

Dr Aric Sigman, a psychologist who focuses on childhood disease, says the Ofcom statistics are “another measure showing that children are spending more of their recreational time looking at screens, particularly in bedrooms by themselves…We need to think of recreational screen time as a form of consumption in the way that we thing of sugar, fat, alcohol, hours in the sun – measured in units of hours per day.”

Which by and large I’d go along with. But back to paper…

Our teenagers are not only watching less live TV and listening to much less live radio than adults, but they are also giving up on voice calls and email in favour of text-based communication, using Instagram, WhatsApp and Snapchat in a constant search for what’s new.

However, the rise of digital formats has also not convinced the vast majority of Britons to get rid of their physical media collections.

Some 84% of UK adults surveyed by Ofcom said they had a book collection. On the other hand when asked which form of media they would miss the most if it disappeared, just 2% of adults said they would feel the absence of newspapers or magazines.

OK – so that is not looking good for books, printed records, magazines and the like. But…

This is a fast moving situation. For fifty years TV has had a remorseless grip on the population at large and teenagers in particular. In one very real sense those teenagers who could, fought back by growing up faster and going out with their mates – in order to get away from intrusive parents.

Now they have their own entertainment in their own rooms, and it is not TV. What this means is that the TV companies, already having to face a totally fractured scenario in which there are hundreds of channels available, are now losing their grip totally. Everyone can produce their own TV shows.

Yet there is no reason to think this will continue – nor to think that we can predict what happens next. After all, when mobile phones came out, no one even imagined text messaging, let alone the notion that texting would become the main form of communication.

Which means that if the past tells us anything it tells us that we are very bad at predicting the future.

But here’s another vision. We have two different groups in society. Those that stay indoors all the time and those that go out. Those that text, and those that actually find that much of what they think can’t be expressed in a tiny number of words.

Newspapers in their present form might vanish, but something else will come along, and the notion that it will all be digital is almost certainly wrong.

What happens next? I have no idea, but my bet is that neither does anyone else.

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