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Don't assume print's demise

Jul 22, 2012 - By Randy Tucker

The nation's primary purchasers and voters aren't buying the idea

We live in an increasingly politicized society. You can't even invite friends to dinner without one or several engaging in some inane party rhetoric.

It is no surprise that in an election year these situations rise to the point of nausea.

Recent legislative meetings on the legal status of advertising public meetings, elections, payrolls etc... in the print media or as an alternative in an online format, somehow escaped this all-knowing eye of political discourse.

Elections increasingly are the realm of the aging and the retired. A brief look at national trends in the last two presidential elections reveals the tendency dramatically. Anyone want to venture a guess on which age group votes at the highest percentage rate? That is an easy one to answer. People aged 65 to 75 outnumber all other demographic groups, with an average turnout at the polls approaching 75 percent.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the 18-to-24-year-old voters, who experience historically low voter turnouts. The youngsters voted at nearly a 40 percent average rate in 2008, up substantially from the 28 percent in the 2004 election. any explain this phenomenon as the Obama effect because the president energized so many young voters in his race against John McCain four years ago.

As to the change from print to online public information a question must be asked: Where do these two groups get their voting information?

While the young do read newspapers, and the elderly log onto the Internet, their preferred method of getting information presents a wide disparity.

Pundits for the online world would tell you that print is dead. People have been saying for generations. Marshall McLuhan wrote his groundbreaking book, "Understanding Media" in 1964. Now, nearly half a century later we find his insight amazingly profound, on a level unthinkable in 1960s America when television was the medium attacking print. Before that it was radio, the movies, the telephone and the telegraph.

McLuhan's work remains just as intriguing as the digital realm attempts to overwhelm the analog world.

He was on to something when he wrote, "American youth attributes much more importance to arriving at driver's license age than at voting age."

But, in a side note, even that statistic is also in decline. Driver's license rates dropped from a high of 75 percent in 1982 to less than 50 percent of 16-19-year-olds today.

Maybe kids don't have to travel anymore because they think the Internet and television bring everything to them. Maybe it is economics or a growingly urban population. There is a strong possibility that many of the young now read so poorly, and drop out at such alarming rates that they just can't pass the written driving test. In reality it's a mixture of all three and probably more.

Supporters of the Internet claim that eventually all books, newspapers, retail outlets and even grocery stores will fail as the digital world gains complete control over reality.

The current topic to remove legal advertising from the print media and place it solely in the web-based world smacks of this claim.

It also smacks of age discrimination.

Generations X and Y account for over half of the Internet usage but account for only about a quarter of the votes cast in American elections. Baby Boomers represent a third of the people alive today in America and cast an almost proportionate number of total votes. The people who survived the Great Depression and World War II account for almost 20 percent of the total votes cast but use the Internet at just half that rate.

Older citizens read the newspaper much more frequently than their grandchildren. They read it thoroughly and get their political information within its pages. As people age, their propensity to read the paper has increased over the last couple of generations. Whether that holds true in the future is a mystery, but it has held true through history.

What is not a mystery is the fickle nature of the digital world. A popular site is here today and gone tomorrow. A few sites offer the chance to travel back in digital time to recreate now defunct websites but the data is rarely complete and difficult to find.

The analog world still has the digital one beaten badly when it comes to official record keeping and data storage. All you have to do is travel to your local newspaper office, ask to see a story or photograph from five, 10, 30 or 50 years ago, and in a few minutes you've found what you're looking for. Digital storage usually falls short because of changing technology and lack of follow-through over time.

Digital proponents abound but are often deluded by economic opportunity. Perhaps someday it will come to pass, but this is not that day.

McLuhan realized this 50 years ago when he penned one of his more famous phrases in response to a perceived decrease in the civic knowledge of the American public. "A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding."

Here's to making the effort to understand the world around you, maybe without the use of a keyboard and mouse.

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