The All-Digital Diet

August 21st, 2006 by Alex

Amy Webb, editor-in-chief at Dragonfire, the online magazine where I’m media critic, conducted an interesting experiment recently. She went 30 days without using any traditional media, and wrote about it for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Her thoughts at the end of the experiment:

Day 30: Saturday, July 1

Made it. Conclusions:

I’ve realized that I don’t need traditional, mainstream media. I’m getting the same information available to everyone else - getting more of it faster and more comprehensively.

Better, I’ve created a virtual salon in which I can meet people, chat about the news and current events, share ideas on what else to read, and find meetings to chat with people in person. The last time I went to a bar in Philly and tried to have a conversation about the news, the woman next to me smiled, got up and walked away.

I’ve concluded that the medium doesn’t matter after all. After a month without any print or broadcast media, I can say with confidence that I could easily live without ever picking up a physical newspaper again. As a journalist, I realize that the future of news will depend on our ability to become “information brokers,” using multimedia platforms to tell our stories.

But after a month, I put a foot back into the analog world and find myself - happy. I’ve missed holding a magazine and reading in the bathtub. I like the way newsprint feels between my fingers. Techie that I am - multitasking just about everything - a part of me still likes to focus on a single story, without distraction.

Is print dead? Not yet - not when local media organizations, in Philadelphia as well as in other cities, are so far behind in technology. Even technophiles like me still crave newspapers and magazines. Assuming the cost of production doesn’t spike, there will always be a place for both digital and traditional content.

But the way we gather and distribute information will increasingly rely on digital technologies. Teenagers don’t know a world without computers, so they’ve been socialized to accept rapid human-machine interactions. For the rest of us, the transition won’t be easy. But it is inevitable.

Amy will also be on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” today.

(Hat-tip to my dad, the NPR listener in the family, for letting me know about all this.)