Ten Observations on the Future of Internet Use

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It’s not often I’m sitting at the table with a guy who advises Obama, Google and Sarkozy. But Jeff Cole, who leads the Digital Future report at Annenberg’s School of Communications, was the keynote at a conference I helped organize for Worldcom Public Relations Group, our global network of partner PR firms, and he was primed to talk about what he’s learned studying how we use the Internet for the past 11 years.

That’s actually a long time, in Internet time. Lifetimes, even. He and his team are now tracking behavior in 34 countries, which gives them, and us, a pretty interesting vantage point on change.

Among the most interesting points he shared were forecasts about the future:

  1. Facebook will continue to grow, but probably only for another few years. Once it hits a billion-or-so members, people will defect to smaller networks. It’s not clear the form they’ll take, or how many we’ll be able to actively manage. Several years ago, Forrester Research [link] said we could handle three. In The Influentials, the most connected touch as many as 21 groups.
  2. By 2016, we’ll be spending 50 hours each week ‘relaxing’ in front of a screen. That’s nearly 300% more time than we spent with TVs in 1975. (And it will be a climb of nearly 50% more than the 35 hours we spent with our screens just last year.) Where does that ‘extra’ time come from? Sleep.
  3. Ratings for live TV ‘events’ continue to climb. Not because it’s better, but because TV is now communal. With a phone in one hand, we’re ‘with’ people who aren’t in the room. Laugh tracks suddenly stop being necessary, when our Twitter and Facebook friends are laughing along with us.
  4. But not everyone is moving online. In fact, two percent drop off each year. Some lose access through their work, others by choice. Should we care about them?
  5. Newspapers will not go away, the same way radio didn’t disappear when movies came in. They’ll shrink, and adapt. There may well be only four or five ‘major’ dailies that truly survive, even digitally. The most successful will become global brands, with international editions. The likely contenders are the most obvious: USAToday, the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
  6. This generation of teens will never read newspapers. (Ten years ago, teens didn’t care about newspapers, either, but picked them up by the time they were in their mid-20s.) This generation is also the last that will own CDs.
  7. By 2015, there will be more than 3 billion smart-phones. Despite how often we manage to lose our phones, we are actually becoming more likely to leave our wallet behind than our phones; our phones are rapidly becoming our connection to the world.

There were three other data points that were interesting enough to share, even though they’re more about today than tomorrow.

  1. Teens are more interested in news than at any time since the 1930s, because they know that what happens half-way around the world can change their own lives. They’re getting this news from friends, of course, or by sites that ‘curate’ the content.
  2. 80% of teens sleep next to their phone.
  3. Only 4 to 6 percent of people who have PCs really ‘need’ them, based on the applications they use; the rest of us can live with a tablet. Add to this that ‘everyone’ with an iPad is ready to get rid of their PC, and it’s easy to understand why Apple was ready to drop the price, but realized it didn’t need to.

By: Amy Bermar
Twitter: @amybermar

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Amy Bermar
Amy Bermar founded Corporate Ink determined to create the kind of PR firm reporters wanted to work with. She spent her first 10 years writing for dailies and knew that good PR makes for great stories 20 years later – she's built one of the tech industry's top boutique firms.

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