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Time Enough at Last?

10 July 2007

In the 1959 Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last,” Burgess Meredith plays a frustrated banker who has virtually no time to read because his disapproving wife and boss, representing anti-intellectualism, continually thwart his efforts to engage in his favorite activity.

Today, time scarcity resonates more than ever (one could argue that anti-intellectualism does too). When “Time Enough at Last” was made, one wage earner per household was typical. Now, two incomes and longer hours are the norm.

And unlike yesteryear, when Meredith was primarily a consumer of information, today he could also actively create it, blogging about books or composing music on his computer and sharing it on MySpace. He might also use his iPhone to watch old Twilight Zone episodes on YouTube or blow off steam with his Nintendo Wii. In short, Meredith would likely find objects of bliss left and right but only indulge in a fraction of them.

With less free time and ever more options, people will increasingly sniff out precisely what they want when they want it. The Internet should fare best in this fragmented and cluttered environment because its most common uses—e-mail, articles, songs, images and videos—do not generally require major investments of time.

And with the Internet everything can be quantified. Page views, unique users, time spent online etc. An advertiser looking to quantify its return on investment will have a much easier go of it online.

The Internet also targets messages more precisely than other mediums. This narrowcasting echoes Chris Anderson’s “Theory of the Long Tail,” which asserts that we will increasingly see more niche items sold at a lower volume to a greater variety of people at the expense of fewer mass market success stories.

Lastly, younger people are increasingly accustomed to interactive communications and having news and information delivered in the context of a dialogue. The Internet wins hands down here too because most other mediums continue to favor disseminating information in a top-down, gatekeeper controlled manner.

To make things more challenging for all parties involved, if a magazine, Web site or video game fails to meet expectations, its creators shouldn’t automatically assume their offering is subpar.

The problem could simply be that with so many attractive options and so few hours in the day, people have to make hard choices.

Which reminds me…Gotta run!


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