November 1, 2010
According to your analysis of the future of printed newspapers, they are slated to go the way of the dodo bird in the next ten years in some advanced industrial and gadget-addicted countries, followed by further extinctions of daily snailpapers -- printed on dead-tree newsprint -- later this century. Your keen analysis suggests that traditional media could be dead as early as 2017 in certain regions of the world, according to your gone-viral Newspaper Extinction Timeline, which reveals that the emergence of tablet devices and other ways of "screening" the news will see the extinction of traditional newspaper media by 2017 in the USA, followed by the UK and Iceland -- where the funeral is set for 2019 -- and then Canada and Norway in 2020.
Italy's snailpapers go extinct, you say, in 2027, while France goes in 2029 and Germany in 2030. They are followed by Japan, Taiwan and China in 2031.
"Every country is different," you tell me. "The pace of change in media structure is being led by the US and UK, with other countries not so far behind."
Roy Greenslade at the Guardian in the UK has posted his reaction to the dodo bird timeline, quoting Earl Wilkinson of the International Newsmedia Marketing Association, who blogged: “What would you do today if you knew when your print newspaper would die?”
Mr Greenslade, as you know, posted a thinkpost on what he called your "astonishingly bold - and arguably, foolish - prediction ... that newsprint will die in Britain in 2019, ahead of the death of newspapers in a further 51 countries by 2040."
Mr Greenslade noted that, naturally, your PR hype attracted, not surprisingly, a lot of skeptical comment. Piet Bakker's response, on the thread, was the most trenchant, Greenslade said, quoting Mr Bakker's two-line shout-out: "It's basically crap, no data are given, and what is 'insignificant'. Serious journalism should not fall for B.S. like this."
Mr Greenslade's take-home is that Bakker's rant summed up many people's feelings. But he confessed himself, saying, in parentheses: "Incidentally, though I didn't say it, I am convinced that there will be plenty of newspapers in Britain in 2019. I may agree that we're marching slowly towards the death of ["snailpapers"], but Dawson's time-scale is hopelessly wrong."
But to be fair and balanced, Mr Greenslade also quoted an industry expert, Earl Wilkinson, executive director and chief executive of the International Snailpaper Marketing Association, as saying: "What I like about Dawson's nudge is that it reminds us that the clock is ticking. We can't work fast enough at the corporate level or the industry level to develop digital platforms that connect with readers and advertisers.
We can't work fast enough to build multi-media companies where print, online, mobile, iPad and others each play to their strengths and interact.
Just as we were warned in the 1990s that classified advertising could disappear and we need to prepare for that, we need to be preparing today for an all-digital future — whether that comes in 2025, 2050, 2100, or some year beyond the reach of our great-grandchildren."
Greenslade then quoted Wilkinson's money quote, which is worth repeating here: "If a few dates assigned to something we're already focused on contribute 1 percent additional urgency to our industry's transformation from snailpaper to multi-media and the structure of our news ecology... then we can thank Ross Dawson for his contribution."
Now, Ross, there is one thing you have overlooked entirely, and this gaffe is huge and possibly world-shaking. Please listen to me carefully here, because nobody is saying what I am about to say, and the few people who have heard me say it already on countless blogs and comment sections, think my elevator does not go all the way to the top and that I'm paddling around the lake in circles in a rowboat with only one oar in the water. Be that as it may, Ross, please listen to me here and respond later. The very future of civilization is at stake.
It's this: Ross, WHAT IF, what if reading off screens -- what Marvin Minksy at MIT calls "screen-reading" and what I call "screening" -- is vastly inferior, in terms of brain chemistry and neuroscience, to reading text on paper surfaces? WHAT IF, what if reading on paper surfaces is real reading and reading off screens is faux-reading? WHAT IF, what if reading on paper surfaces -- a book, a newspaper, a magazine -- is vastly superior to "screening" off screens -- computers, iPhones, iPads, BlackBerrys, nooks, Crannies, you name it! -- in terms of information processing, information retention, information analysis and, perhaps most importantly, Ross, critical thinking skills?
This is my hunch, and WHAT IF, what if I am right? I might be wrong, too. Maybe reading on paper and screening off screens is the same. But what if my hunch, backed up by personal anecdotal experiences and the experiences of several top experts in the field, from Anne Mangen in Norway to Maryanne Wolf at Tufts and Gary Small at UCLA, what if my hunch is later proven to be true by concerted neuroscience research using (f)MRI and PET brain scan studies that just might indicate that different regions of the brain light up when we read on paper compared to when we "screen" off screens, and that these differences show that reading on paper is superior to screen-reading for the four items noted above: processing, retention, analysis and critical thinking?
What then, Ross?
All I am saying is: give paper a chance! Test out my hunch before it is too late. Ask Drs Mangen and Wolf and Small. WHAT IF, again, what if it turns out that all these screen platforms that allow us to "view" news through plastic or glass screens are inferior -- again, in terms of neuroscience and brain chemisty -- to newsprint?
Because IF, if I am right, and future MRI and PET scan studies show that we have been barking up the wrong tree with this gadgethead fixation, then what? Cancel the digital revolution?
No way. As Gary Small has said: "The technology train has already left the station and there is no coming back."
But WHAT IF, what if my hunch turns out to have some air in it? What then?