It’s always interesting, as we begin to approach the end of another year, to think about how far technology has taken us once again. With the holidays right around the corner, I’m confident that more people than ever will be hoping for an iPad2 in their stockings. Since the new release of the iPad2 in March of 2011, Apple’s iPad sales have rocketed over the sales of any other tablet device. As a result (or perhaps vice-versa), people are shifting their behaviors when it comes to reading and consuming information. Maybe people are feeling compelled to help the environment and go green (saving trees is a great thing!). Perhaps more people are taking advantage of awesome applications like our very own FirstRain, which helps deliver news in a faster, more efficient way than ever before (in fact have you tried our FirstRain iPad app?). Or maybe people just feel compelled to keep up with the pace of modern technology—the iPad is a perfect, modern example of how amazing technology can be.
In the morning, I ride San Francisco’s Caltrain from the city down the Peninsula to our FirstRain office in San Mateo. I can’t remember the last time I saw a rider reading the actual newspaper—and I take the Caltrain every day. The typical Caltrain passenger behavior (and we’re talking about mostly Silicon Valley employees) is coffee in one hand and iPad in the other. For the few not lucky enough to have a new iPad, you have people like me who scan news on their iPhone (although thankfully I am able to access news using the FirstRain iPhone app!) Either way, I’d say 8 out of 10 Caltrain riders definitely use technology to access the news they may have been receiving years ago from printed versions. I feel badly for the guy who stands at the end of the station trying to sell newspapers! This shift in behavior is not limited to just business professionals. Last week Mashable.com published a video portraying a 1-year old baby using an iPad. When handed a magazine, this adorable baby girl began to press the non-existent buttons, not turn the pages. She resorted to her only knowledge of how to “read,” that is: how to read using technology. Is this a sign of what’s to come for the next generation? Will turning the physical pages in books, and magazines become ancient history? Was there a generation that mourned the physical satisfaction of pressing cuneiform into clay tablets, or decried the loss of reading an elegant scroll?
Last week, here at the FirstRain office, we had our own conversation about the lack of reading print media in today’s society. Ryan Warren, our VP of Marketing, noticed and commented on the fact that I printed out a colleague’s blog to read over, instead of just editing and reading it on my laptop. I tend to focus better on what I’m reading when I print out a physical version (Facebook & Twitter are not floating around in the background this way). Proof that printing out someone’s paper to edit is becoming less common, he asked if this was something I did normally. What if I’ve been the only person out there who still prints out things to read?
So I decided to investigate. I sent out an email survey to a network of friends, all millennials, all in my age bracket, mostly young business professionals and a few graduate students, asking them all if they preferred reading text online rather than printing out and reading a hard copy. I wasn’t surprised by most of the responses. 90% of those who answered preferred to read online. Some preferred to read online only when the length of the reading material was limited to four pages or less. Others preferred to read online if it was reading for pleasure rather than reading for business or school. And sure enough, some opted to read online because it was “greener.” One friend said it was easier to “stay organized while having everything in one place” on their laptop. I was quite impressed with the reasoning behind each of their answers. Am I the only person still printing!? Don’t get me wrong, I read articles online every day and I don’t buy physical paper newspapers. I use our FirstRain apps and use the Web to access the news. Yet, sometimes, I still chose to print things out in order to help me focus… even though I suppose this makes me old fashioned. Maybe when I finally purchase an iPad, I’ll give up my old habits. I’m really curious to see what lies ahead for future generations and how they’ll consume the media of tomorrow. Will the baby with the iPad write this same blog post, wondering how many people still prefer touch interfaces instead of just having it plugged directly into their brain?