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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lies, Damn Lies, etc

Thomas Baekdal advises his clients on how to communicate in the 21st Century. He has posted an analysis of current sources of information and his predictions for the future on his blog Market of Information: Where Is Everybody?.

Here's the graph that everyone's raving about ...

According to Thomas Baekdal, our society is already getting almost 75% of its information from the internet. By 2020 it will be 90%, according to Baekdal.

The surprising thing about this nonsense is the number of people who believe it.1 The Web 2.0 cult and its various sects have grown into a kind of social movement populated mainly by people under thirty years old, as far as I can tell. These people are predicting that the world will be radically changed in just a few years as newspapers, books, television, and radio die off. They believe that most citizens will be getting all their information from social networks, social news, blogs and websites.

It's reasonable to ask how such predictions are made and, to their credit, some of the people commenting on have asked. Tom Baekdal replies in comment #30.
The graph was based on combination of a lot of things, a number of interviews, general study, general trend movements, my experience etc. I cannot give you a specific source though, because I used none specifically.

The graphs before 1990 are all based on interviews, and a large number of Google searches to learn about the history of Newspaper, TV and Radio - and more specifically, what people uses in the past. The graphs from 1998 and up to today, is based on all the things that have happened in the past 11 years, of which I have probably seen 1000 surveys ( it is what I do for a living). And the graph from 2009 and forward is based on what I, and many other people predict will happen in the years to come.

One very important thing though, this is not a reflection of my opinion. This is the result a careful analysis. There are always variations, and different types of people. But I believe that this graph accurately reflects consumer focus.
That's it folks. This "careful analysis" is what he does for a living and it is NOT just a reflection of his personal opinion.

It sounds to me a lot like the Oprah Winfrey sort of reasoning that we all respect so highly (not!). This is a dangerous trend. What we're seeing here is the abandonment of rational thought in favor of personal experience, wishful thinking, and pseudo-intellectual, scientific-looking analyses.

Nobody doubts that the internet plays an important role in the lives of many people—this is a blog, after all, and it's really, really important.

Nobody doubts that the internet will take up a larger percentage of people's time in the future. But the change will be incremental and supplemental, just as radio, television, email, and cell phones, became part of our lives without transforming them. Newspapers, magazines, and books did not disappear when every home acquired a radio in the 1930s or a television set in the 1960s and they won't disappear when every home has a personal computer.

I tell by students to look at those big boxes hanging from the ceiling in their classroom. They're from 1969 when everyone predicted that television would take over the classroom. My building was even designed with a television studio on the main floor. It's now offices for research administration.

If it's true that in a few short years we will get 90% of our information from the internet then we need to be afraid, very afraid.

The business world will adapt to incremental changes in the way we communicate and gather information. But the proper response is to base business decisions on real scientific analysis of current trends and behaviors and not on the wishful thinking of someone who makes a living by promoting the death of traditional media.

One of the advantages of being an old foggy is that I've lived through several cycles of so-called "futurists" who are convinced they are the prophets of change (e.g. Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock, 1970; and George Gilder, co-founder of the Discovery Institute). It gets a bit boring after the first fifty years.

1. That means you, Bertalan Meskó of ScienceRoll


  1. I know readership in traditional newspapers has been decreasing steadily for a good while now. I have a friend who is an anchor at a local television show who says network news ratings have been steadily decreasing, too, but thinks that this trend is mostly due to cable news programming. However, as a 32-year old, I and almost all of my friends get most of our information on news, current events, etc. from the internet. I think there is definitely an informational paradigm shift going on. But I'm with you, I don't think it is ever as drastic/sudden/dramatic as it is made out to be.

    "CHICAGO -- While circulation trends are in line with expectations, Fitch Ratings continues to believe newspaper companies will be pressured by an accelerating shift of advertising dollars. The Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) released preliminary circulation figures today for the six-month period ended Sept. 30, 2007 with daily circulation at the top 25 newspapers estimated to be down 2.4% and total circulation (at 609 papers audited) down 2.6%. These results are slightly better than the figures reported last year which were down approximately 2.8% and they continue a 20-year slide in circulation for the industry."

  2. This: "They believe that most citizens will be getting all their information from social networks, social news, blogs and websites."

    does not follow from this: "These people are predicting that the world will be radically changed in just a few years as newspapers, books, television, and radio die off."

    You are falling into the fake journalists vs. bloggers dichotomy. Metro newspapers will die. Hyper-Global and hyper-local papers will survive with various novel and experimental business models. But journalism will move online, not be lost to non-journalism. Just because it is online, does not mean it is untrustworthy, is it?

    Of course, the new medium will alter the method and the message - that will be exciting to watch as in many way the global culture, the modern social sensibilities and the technical tools allow us to build journalism better than it ever was in history. In other words, the Web-based-journalism evangelists are optimists, people who deeply care about journalism, analyze it through history, what is good, what is bad, what to keep what to get rid of, and build the journalism the way it was always supposed to be but, up till now, failed to get there.

    And yes, journalism has left TV a long time ago.

  3. I wonder what a similar graph for wood, flint, cloth, copper, bronze, iron and plastic would look like? Or what about a graph for sleds, rollers, wheels, carts, chariots, cars, aircraft, space shuttles?

    Actually, I have no objection to people engaging in speculative and risky ideas provided criticism is part of the process. After all, futurology is to the intangible future as religion is to intangible Deity.

    Such is the creative process. What I object to are not speculative "test" ideas per se, but the hard and hyped oversell that often accompanies them.

  4. The data is wrong as well. He comments that in 2009 - now -"... people are watching less TV than ever."

    Of course, that does include the time before TV exisited?

    But more importantly that is contrary to the actual data the shows the hours spent watching TV continue to grow. (see: Neilsen reports TV viewing at its highest point in its 59 year history. This corraborated by a study from the Ball State's Center for Media design.)

    The Neilsen data also shows that the demo - those so called lost to Facebook teens - TV viewing is at an all time high 3+ hours per day.

    The simple ignorance of the facts shows the model is wrong - its extrapolations wrong.

    Thanks for the heads up on this.

  5. of which I have probably seen 1000 surveys ( it is what I do for a living)...wait, so this guy gets paid to look at surveys?


  6. I like my version of the graph better, but I still don't know what to put in the purple stripe.

  7. I just want to add I am not defending that article - it is intriguing, but show me the raw data. I was just irked by the off-hand curmdugeonliness of those two sentences put together in such a deceptive way.

  8. Coturnix,

    I think that the journalism question is more complex. Journalism is expensive. Keeping people on the ground throughout the world as well as investigative journalists who may take 12 months to produce some output.
    The very people who appreciate this are the ones who get their news for free on the web. Leaving News Corporation to slowly remove all of their journalists.

    What is to happen then? Most of our favourite online sources still rely on the traditional media for their raw data.

    So I don't think that journalism will move to the web until somebody can think of how to pay them

  9. He can't give us any actual sources because he got this form stuff he picked up as he went along, but hey! It's a careful scientific analysis!

    I have to admit, though, that I would not have given this graph a second thought if I hadn't read your comments on it, since it seems so plausible to me.

    I guess I'll just have to live through a few cycles of futurism myself...

  10. We in the librarian profession have been wrestling with the Web 2.0 demon for years. A whole cohort of tech-evangelists, comprised of professionals and vendors, has tried to sell my profession on the absolute necessity of adopting social networking to maintain the relevant of libraries and librarianship. They expressed the "common-sense" view that teenagers are all over texting, messaging, Facebook, YouTube, blogging, social bookmarking, creating websites, etc.

    Last year one of my colleagues presented her findings based on some actual empirical data: the "common sense" view is wrong. Adolescents have slightly higher rates of use with modern technologies than older people, but mainly because of their comfort level. Many teens don't blog and I think it's pretty clear that successful bloggers (those with a large and consistent readership) tend to be in their late 20s or older. Teens preferred mode of communication still seems to be the telephone. Another colleague summarized it as: "Teenagers have two priorities: talking to girls, and talking to boys, and whatever aids with those, they'll adopt." And people tend to pick up communications technology easily enough: even your most technophobic grandmother will learn email and video chat if she can see her grandchildren more often.

    I've seen this for years myself: much as I use Google everyday and find it the salvation of anyone trying to find anything on the web, it hasn't made laypeople better at information retrieval. If anything, it's made them worse, as it makes people think they're good searchers. (I cringe when I see some of my friends in IT do a Google search.)