by Chris Herlinger
Dr. Cole was inroduced by Wesley "Pat" Pattillo, Senior Program Director for Justice, Advocacy and Communication, National Council of Churches USA.
CHICAGO (RCCongress 2010), April 10 — Trying to understand the future of global communication? A small hand-held device already takes pride of place, says a noted expert on digital communication.
Think mobile – the mobile phone with the capabilities of television, web surfing and texting.
"Mobile is at the center of everything," Jeffrey Cole, who directs the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, told participants at a Saturday, April 10, plenary session Religion Communication Congress 2010 in Chicago. "It's truly the transformational device."
More so than the personal computer, the mobile phone is being embraced by more people globally than any other single device – transforming lives everywhere, be they suburban kids in North America who stay in touch with friends through texting or farmers in Africa who use the phone to determine new markets for their goods.
The number of those with a mobile phone in their hands is estimated at 4.7 billion – the world's estimated population is 6.8 billion.
"There is nothing as a species that we share more than the mobile phone," said Cole. "The future is in mobile."
Cole said that studies by the California-based center also point to a future in which various media will survive but as smaller industries, particularly as they continue to move more fully to the Web and are seen increasingly in new formats.
Cole said he understands the frustration of faith-based organizations trying to determine which media platforms to embrace, discard or ignore. Since the time of the ancient Greeks, those of every era and epoch have lamented that never before has the pace of change been so swift, Cole said. "But in this case, it might be true," he said to the RCCongress 2010 participants.
Photo by George Conklin
His advice to faith-based communicators? "Your learning curve needs to be steeper than your action curve." In practical terms, that means "you don't have to be on Twitter. But you have to understand Twitter."
The challenge of new media platforms cannot be underestimated, Cole said, given that studies show that teen-agers are now spending most of their waking hours in front of a screen of some sort.
Broadband, Cole argued, "changes everything" not merely because of the speed with which it transmits information but the fact that so many people are now "constantly on" – connected to friends and colleagues via mobile phones.
Cole said that teen-agers are avid consumers of news – in fact, he said, studies indicate they are actually more interested in news than teen-agers 70 years ago. But today's young people will never turn to the printed form of newspapers for their news, Cole said. Any time a reader of a printed newspaper dies, Cole said, that reader is not replaced with a new, younger reader.
A decade ago, Cole said, he predicted that printed newspapers had about a 30-year future. Now, Cole predicts, newspapers in printed form have perhaps a five-year future.
Magazines, he said, have more of a future in their traditional form. While some will continue to move to the Web, others – such as ad-heavy women's magazines – will likely survive because of their sheer size.
As for television, Cole predicted the medium will continue a trend where it "escapes from the home" and "becomes a constant companion" on the Web and is watched on computers and mobile phones.
Movies will also survive, Cole said, though with people watching through different platforms. "No one will watch 'Avatar' for the first time on a cell phone, though they might for the third or fourth time," he said.
Cole also called social networking "the real deal" – noting that with 400 million active users, Facebook, were it a country, would be the third largest country in the world.
But Cole also compared sites like Facebook to nightclubs, which ultimately lose popularity when everyone wants to be seen at them, and eventually become victims of their own success. Noting the practice of mothers wanting to "friend" their children on Facebook, Cole said: "The worst thing (that can happen in) a nightclub is running into your mother."
Chris Herlinger is a communicator with the humanitarian organization Church World Service. He is a member of the New York chapter of RCC.
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