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Jeffrey Cole on the digital future

Recently, USC professor Dr. Jeffrey Cole spoke to a group of librarians, faculty, students and staff on campus. Dr. Cole has been analyzing mass media since the early 1990s when he was Principal Investigator of the Network Television Violence Monitoring Project. His initial interest in the internet came from a 1998 study which showed that for the first time since the birth of television, the hours children spent watching TV dropped: the internet had became a competitor for the hearts and minds of the younger generation.

Dr. Cole is the director of the USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future. According the Center’s website, it is “committed to work that has a real and beneficial effect on people’s lives, while seeking to maximize the positive potential of the mass media and our rapidly evolving communication technologies.” The Center recently produced two reports: the Digital Future Report 2009 and the World Internet Project International Report 2009. Both are available for purchase on the Center’s website (highlights are also available).

In anticipation of future discussions on information access, some of the claims made during the presentation may be of interest to librarians and educators. Dr. Cole spoke at length on the future of newspapers and the digital life of the younger (12-24 yrs) generation. Some notes:

-Despite claims about the “death of X” (where X equals any media format), mass media will survive (even thrive!) but it will get smaller. The exception to this is television, which will escape from the home and the clock to find increased life on mobile and asynchronous platforms.
-Newspapers, perhaps the poster child of “dying” media, are missing out on the fact that the younger generation is more interested in the news than it has been in the last 70 years.
-In order to be considered “up-to-date”, newspapers need to publish within 30-60 seconds of an event.

Concerning the Center’s study of 12-24 year-olds’ habits:

Fewer:
-wear watches each year
-read magazines each year
-schedule TV viewing and are dominated by it

More:
-trust peers over experts
-use mobile devices
-are willing to pay for digital content
-see community as the center of their internet experience
-think they are not interested in or affected by advertising (but they are)
-prefer IM to email
-want content to move freely between platforms

If you have the chance to see Dr. Cole speak, I highly recommend it. He is engaging, charismatic, and obviously passionate about his research. For more information, please visit the Center’s website.