We’re coming out of over a week without proper Internet access, all because the local telco technicians were too terrified to climb a pole located on the downhill curve of a main road beside us! Finally a bucket truck and flaggers were rolled and service has been restored. In the duration we did manage to find one very weak, non-secured Wi-Fi network signal that we could latch onto, but as I average over 15 Mbyte of e-mails a day poor ‘sven18’ could not cope in any realistic number of hours. So, I ended up a few times in the parking lot of a nearby motel and our local library just to download my mail.
It made me reminisce to my daughter this morning about how it was when she was young and after I had made her breakfast of scrambled eggs I would take her to the incredibly expensive Northern California daycare and then go to my desk at Electronic Design Magazine in San José. Every morning, on arrival, there would be a short stack of FedEx envelopes each containing a press release and the inevitable glossy photos of ICs alongside a shiny penny or dime: such imagination. Shortly after, the phone would start ringing with enquiries about the releases: “Did you get our FedEx?” The full potential of the Internet was at the time just a dream in progress, and the main electronic messaging available was on CompuServe, which I had not yet signed up with. So, I suppose, FedEx tracking had to be done by telephone – but it would have been more satisfactory if the calls had been made to the company rather than me…
Now there are no FedEx envelopes but there are, unfortunately, still some follow-up phone calls to make sure that I received the e-mails of the releases! I try to be polite but occasionally lose it when the caller starts reiterating the release’s content in language that confirms the material might as well be in Greek as far as they are concerned.
Most of us who got online early in the game used services like CompuServe, complete with their crazy e-mail addresses and half-hearted access to the Internet. Nowadays there is only one PR person I know who still uses a CompuServe address. It is a little weird the way different technologies are picked up at different rates in different parts of the world. I remember, for example, my nephews and nieces in the UK texting on pre-paid cards on their mobiles many years before texting appeared at all as a force in North America. By 2012, however, you would have expected just about the whole of the civilized world to have access to and be using the Internet.
The Pew Internet Project has tracked the role of the Internet in North America since the year 2000. That’s hardly ‘forever’ as far as some of us are concerned: EN-Genius, starting as analogZONE, came into being in 2001, and before that I had come out of years of the triumphant EDTN and its rather less triumphant successor in the form of Chipcenter. Still, we were well ahead of the game in Internet publishing.
From the latest Pew report it therefore appears extraordinary that while those of us who depend on the Internet are continuously increasing our use, almost 20% of adults in North America still have no access, or at least, do not use the net. It is less extraordinary that those who are absent from our place of enlightenment are the elderly, non high school graduates, and those from lower income households. Experience shows, however, that the elderly, in particular, become avid users of the Internet and e-mail once they are gently introduced to their use.
That lack of use does not fully tally with the gadgets that adults have in their toy arsenals: 88% have a cell phone, 57% have a laptop and 19% use either/both a tablet and e-book reader and most users actually access the Internet with their wireless devices.
The Pew report is also in disagreement with the Investigative Reporting Workshop which covered an NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) survey in “Connected: Rural, Poor Areas Lag in Broadband” which indicated that 68% of total households had a high-speed or ‘broadband’ connection, but that was dramatically skewed towards 90% of those in households with over $150,000 in income and about 32% with incomes less than $15,000.
Pew found that the main reason people were not connected was that they “were not interested.” The NTIA found that this was an entirely specious category and it was for economic reasons that people were not connected, or even that they regarded the Internet as a dangerous place.
Another Pew report delved into people who followed local news (72% of adults) and found that 68% of them would not be affected in any major way by the disappearance of their local newspapers, and 34% could completely care less. Paying for their local news was ambivalent, with about 38% of news junkies willing to pay for a print newspaper but 72% would not be willing to pay for on-line access.
That is not good news for the local press and even my own – The Times-Colonist – is attempting the on-line subscription model (very poorly implemented and very easy to defeat, as it happens). If the cryptic crossword was available on line I might be tempted to subscribe, but I am certainly not going to pay for a print newspaper that is already twenty-four hours out of date by the time it lands in my mailbox.
Journalism as we have known it is dead, or is in its last death throes. Local politicians will thrive in their future ability to be unsupervised or be questioned by the public. But that is how it is going to be. Even one of our local columnists has been heard to say in a presentation in my daughter’s school that journalism is a dead career. I bet he doesn’t get any FedEx envelopes any more, either.