Are the Internets Saving Culture?
We have talked a lot here about how the Internet has greatly increased the ability for artists to connect with a public they might not otherwise have, without having to move to New York or London or Berlin, but as Allen notes, apparently the advantages extend to art lovers as well: "The new computer-screen culture also allows people to cultivate themselves at home."
A new French study is tracing the impact of the Internet on cultural-consumption habits, from seeing movies to going to museums. As Le Monde’s Michel Guerrin and Nathaniel Herzberg report, the study—“Les Pratiques culturelles des Français à l’ère numérique, enquête 2008” (The Cultural Practices of the French in the Digital Era, 2008 Survey)—was directed by Olivier Donnat under the auspices of the national ministry of culture and is based on statistics compiled by an independent surveyor between 2007–2008.
The last such survey was done by Donnat in 1997, when only one in every five French households had a computer and less than 1 percent of the population were Internet users. Today—just more than a decade later—83 percent have a computer at home, while two-thirds of Internet users spend twelve hours online every week—outside work and studies. In the last survey, television continued to play a main role in dividing people between a lowbrow “domestic culture” of watching television at home and a highbrow “culture of going out” to concerts, museums, and theaters. Has the computer screen increased the television trend of staying put instead of going out? Not at all. “A new culture of the screen has appeared, which upsets the old postulates,” write Guerrin and Herzberg. “Internet users who go online every day are the ones who go the most to the theater, to the movies, and read many books. Even if overall, the younger and often ‘digitalized’ generations go less to the theater or museum, the baby boomers compensate [for these decreases by going more].”
One part of the report that I found fascinating is how it suggests the old Buggles complaint is seemingly progressive. First radio left books behind, then video made radio less relevant, and now the Internets are killing the television star. The study found that:
Watching television has decreased, as well as listening to the radio, reading books and newspapers, and going to the library, especially among the fifteen-to-twenty-four-year-old age group.All of which suggests to my mind that there's simply an appeal of "the new" at work here, and that one day the Internet will take its place alongside the other channels for information or entertainment and reflect a preference more than a dominance. But back to the notion that the Internets are saving culture, could the way retired people have taken to the Internet, where it's easier for them to seek out what interests them, rather than being limited to solely what the TV stations are feeding them, be the reason that so many more of them are turning to the arts?
Whether retiring early (at fifty-five to sixty-four years) or retiring later in life (after age sixty-five), seniors are reaching out to arts and culture. According to the survey, their consumption of television and radio, which was already high in previous surveys, continues to grow. Clearly, the consumption of domestic culture does not suffice; the visits to museums, movies, and theaters are also on the rise in this generation.Or is it merely that seniors are less sedentary today than in previous generations (medical advances and public transportation being what they are) and they can get around to the museums, movies, and theaters. Or even more simply just that no one is immune to the societal ADHD that afflicts us all?