Internet set to complement existing media

EVERY time a new set of statistics emerges about the penetration of the Internet, predictable speculation surfaces on the implications.

Now that the net is often seen as the most important information tool ever invented rather than as a fad, the speculation regularly focuses on the future of existing information media.

Frequently we hear the question being asked: “Can, or will, television, newspapers, radio, telephony, magazines and books as we know them continue to exist? ”

The most recent set of figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics paints an interesting picture of Australia’s place in the Internetworked world.

• The estimated number of Internet users in Australia has reached 6.5million

• There are 850,000 Australian host computers connected to the net

• The annual growth rate for new Internet subscribers in 1999 has been 30 per cent and is expected to continue at this rate.

The distribution of adult Internet users across Australia shows up interesting variations. It is estimated that 49 per cent of adults in the ACT and 31 per cent of Northern Territory adults use the Internet. In Victoria the figure is 26 per cent and in WA 25 per cent. Tasmania recorded 22 per cent, New South Wales 21 per cent and South Australia 17 per cent.

As impressive as these take-up figures are, we would be wrong to assume that existing media are all going to disappear.

There is no doubt that these highly important arms of communications technology will be forced to adapt.

Over the last several hundred years, as each new communications technology has emerged, it has shared the existing market and contributed significantly to the growth of the overall market. This will also happen with the Internet.

Newspapers all over the world are currently working on strategies to interface with the net.

It is reasonable to assume that hard copy newspapers will be in demand for many years.

Many who spend our day at the screen are happy to persist with the old habit of reading the morning newspapers with a cup of coffee.

The number of magazines, colour glossies in particular, has snowballed in recent years despite the arrival of electronic magazines.

When television arrived in Australia in 1956, no-one predicted that, in 1999, 100 per cent of motor cars would feature radios and we would all be listening as we battle traffic jams.

The number of books published every year continues to increase. Many of us are buying more books now than ever before.

Television is currently feeling the pinch because an increasing proportion of viewers is spending more time online with the web than passively watching the box.

As we decide on the type of digital television we are going to have, one of the most fundamental technological developments of the millennium is occurring. Telephony, television and computing are converging and a whole new generation of new media devices will emerge.

The volume and variety of information is expanding exponentially. We can’t be certain about the shape of the future relationships between the net and other media.

We can only be certain that the size of the information bubble will continue to increase.

• Mal Bryce is a former WA Deputy Premier and Minister of Technology.

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