Commentary

Is It Already Too Late to Do Some Soul Searching About the Internet?

I always think that someday the public will get so up-to-here with the Internet that there will be some widespread revolt against its excesses (which are, really, mostly ours)  that millions will decide that maybe they can last an hour without watching a video or have a interesting thought without tweeting it or just luxuriate in the memory of that great restaurant visit last night without posting a photo of the entrée on Facebook.

That maybe, I can visit an online retailer and leave without being followed.  You think the public is just worried about the NSA?

But then again, I always imagine revolutions like this that will never happen. In the history of the world, I think it’s pretty true that very, very few people have ever put that all that toothpaste back into the tube. We are so far down the road and such willing accomplices. And for a variety of reasons—a big one being that marketers live off the Internet and we are so happily enticed by marketing—there will not be less of anything, particularly things that aren't always so good for you.  

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But now there is so much of everything, you’d think we’d be suspicious. Instead, I think we’re inured.   

I read this just the other day:  This weekend, as you search for a movie to watch, you can either head to a theater and see Lee Daniels' The Butler, or stay home and pick one of approximately 14 billion options available on streaming over a variety of services, be it Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, On Demand, or other sites.

I laugh about it now because it took a second read for me to recognize the author was exaggerating. (I think.) That’s because online advertisers launch millions of impressions every day, billions in a month. As YouTube itself will tell you on what might be the most amazing set of stats on the entire Internet, 100 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. That’s the kind of stat that italics were made for, (but I have a self-imposed quota).

Online video is in its infancy and it’s already stupefying gigantic.  Take this, from a recent YuMe blog:

According to eMarketer, the average adult spends five hours online each day, either engaging in non-voice mobile activities or other digital media. That number surpasses the four hours and 31 minutes he or she spends watching TV. In fact, the amount of time people spend in front of the tube will decrease in 2013 compared to 2012, while digital media time will soar roughly 38 minutes.

Consumers' gradual shift away from TV and toward the Internet is something advertisers aren't unaware of. In fact, according to separate research from Nielsen, total ad spending on TV increased only 3.5 percent this year compared to 2012, while investments in Internet advertising swelled 26.3 percent.

When it comes to which devices people are most likely to access the digital sphere on, eMarketer found mobile in particular is seeing a major surge in popularity. By the end of 2013, adults are expected to spend an average two hours and 21 minutes each day on non-voice mobile activities, up nearly a full hour from the one hour and 33 minutes registered last year.”

Imagine that: One hour and 33 minutes in 2012. Two hours and 21 minutes, just a year later. Incredible.

Dwight Garner in The New York Times this weekend did a review of sorts of three new books that try to put the Internet into some oh-my-god perspective that you can work with. Good luck.

Garner’s kids, he concedes near the top, are far, far into the Internet weeds. “My wife, Cree, and I have allowed them to drift quite distantly into the online world, and we fear our casualness has been a calamity,” he writes. “Our kids are paler than they should be, ill at ease with casual boredom, squirmy without Wi-Fi. Their grades are not what they should be. We fear we have left them, as it were, to their own devices.”

He quotes from one of the authors later on, now talking about parents, not kids, who she says are “ ‘unavailable, disconnected or narcissistic.’ “ Then he adds, “We spend the expanse of our days — even those of us paid to keep our eyes glued to the nonelectonic page — gazing into our phones, scanning for the next text, e-mail or tweet.”

Garner wrote, in his lead, “My house may be like your house.”

Damn straight. And what about it?

Well....something?  Nickelodeon has its Worldwide World of Play day every year, encouraging kids to get outside and even suspending kids programs for three hours (It’s on Sept. 21 this year). They’ve done that for a decade or so.

Might it be time for the Internet’s constituents—kids, adults, business owners, video makers, online merchants, tweeters, Googlers, freedom fighters —to step back for a day or two to actually contemplate how we are going to live the rest of our lives with this thing? 

pj@mediapost.com

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