The Internet: The 'Comfort' Medium of the New Millennium

If you were to visit the United States during this presidential campaign, you might conclude that the country is in a state of civil unrest. The passion with which each side is trying to support their candidate - or trash the opponent - is unprecedented in my memory. Overlay widespread anxiety about terrorism and an overly consolidated and outsourced economy, and you have a population of essentially unhappy people yearning for news that can help lift this dark cloud covering the land.

When I am unhappy, I am less forgiving of nearly everything and everyone around me - other drivers, the slow person in the check-out line ahead of me, the table of bellicose diners across the restaurant from me - and I want to make changes in hopes that it will resolve my malaise. Now, multiply me by 70 million and you can understand why traditional institutions - like offline media, for a not-so-random example - are under intense pressure. Almost everything they do is filtered though a consumer prism of frustration, skepticism and suspicion.



Network television viewing continues to tumble. Radio listenership is down as much as 20 percent. Newspapers are only read by the soon-to-be-embalmed parents of baby boomers. Magazine circulation is off nearly as much as its ad pages. Some might want to reach back and blame the dot-com bubble burst or the soft economy of the past four years, but I think the problem has more to do with people's moods than their pocketbooks.

The only bright spot is the Internet, and I would argue that consumers are not so much choosing to go online as they are retreating there. You see, the Internet is the "comfort" medium of the new millennium. It provides people with control so that they can access what they want, when they want it without having to deal with the traditional offline media's mandate of what, where, when, why, and how they should read or watch. This empowers people and makes them feel good.

Some think people surf the Net the same way they use their remotes to cruise up and down 200 cable channels looking for something that engages them. But, by in large, most people have, through experimentation, found and bookmarked their favorite sites and return there time and again. At the same time they know they can go almost anywhere in the world to experience almost anything they can imagine with a few simple clicks. What a hugely empowering feeling to know that you are the master of your online domain and that whatever you want, you can get.

Tired of Clear Channel-filtered news? There are a hundred alternative sites reporting on the same news from different perspectives. Bloggers add new voices that intrigue and challenge the established media. Tired of the playlist on your radio presets? Download and assemble your own music which you can program to repeat your favorite song every 20 minutes if that makes you happy. Or tune in to online radio from London or Budapest. You are in command!

Unlike TV and radio, there is nothing passive about using the Internet. You are actively engaged and are, by default, a better advertising prospect because you are paying attention.

Interestingly, almost everything traditional media does to try and recapture its revenue only further alienates consumers giving them still more reasons to head online. Who wants to watch TV for an hour when 20 minutes are consumed by commercials, not to mention those promos that appear on the screen during the show? How helpful is a newspaper ad that you can't click on for more information or a purchase opportunity?

The Internet is growing because people are simply not happy with the current distribution of information in this country. They are angry at media conglomerates because they perceive them as impersonal and untouchable. They seem to be part of the dark cloud.

The Internet is a clear and mostly pleasing alternative. It is information and entertainment power to the people. It makes me feel better just to think about its almost limitless future.

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