How connected are you?

Charting the huge increase in the amount of time spent online

Have you been virtually connected to the world today?

Many Europeans, and even more Americans, are scrapping newspapers and logging online to catch up on the latest headlines. In the last two years, according to a survey by Juniper Research, the time Europeans spend online has increased from two to four hours per week. The time Americans spend online each week is more than triple this number- they now spend, on average, 14 hours a week online.

In the United Kingdom, from 2004 to 2005, there was a whopping 63 percent increase in the number of households with broadband internet access. Now nine million people are surfing the web using their broadband internet connections- and that number is rising rapidly.

Perhaps it is not a surprise that it's young people who are driving these trends. Already 27 percent of UK citizens between the ages of 16 and 24,surveyed in a 2006 Ofcom Communications Market Report, said they read newspapers less as a consequence of online news. These same young people are also slowly turning away from their television sets and instead focusing on their computer screens, spending one less hour per week watching television per day than the average 2006 viewer.

But what, exactly, are they doing?

Networking, of course. More than 70 percent of these 16 to 24-year-old users are using social networking websites and 37 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds have contributed to a blog or message board. Young people from 15 to 24 are twice as likely to consume video and music content online. Starting at increasingly earlier ages, the younger generations are immersing themselves in instant communication, finding these interactions to be much more stimulating than holding a printed document or even tuning their radios to popular stations.

If you want to see how much today's youth are connecting, just take a walk through a university campus. Any student who isn't surrounded by a group of friends is likely to either be talking on their mobile phone or jamming to their iPod, oblivious to the rest of the world. And now that they can download podcasts and videos online to watch on their iPods, it's becoming even easier to bypass television and radio completely.

In the U.S., there have been debates in many elementary and middle schools about what to do about iPods in the classroom. Some schools have banned the contraptions, but others are embracing them as a new teaching tool. One solution to the iPod problem, promoted by Apple itself, has been to use them as educational tools. Requiring every student to bring their science project to class on a sleek iPod might just be a future norm.

So, if the upcoming generations are so connected, what does this mean for the future of print newspapers, non-digital radio stations and basic television stations?

Well, they're not going under any time soon but are going to have to adapt to a population that likes to be instantly entertained and thrives on being connected. Newspaper sales are already down, and those that are not developing attractive new websites are lagging behind the times. It's become all about the package. News websites with the most hits effectively deliver the entire package- complete with audio, video and print, satisfying as many senses as possible at one time.

These changes don't mean that the death of print is near. Back when cable television entered the market in the 1990s, the print news sources faced similar problems. But they're still alive. As the Internet infiltrates society, people might not buy as many traditional newspapers, but they'll keep going providing they adapt.

The media will always find its way to you, and you will always connect somehow to the media. It's just the way it goes. Don't believe me? You're connecting right now.

Hana Bieliauskas is a junior at Ohio University majoring in magazine journalism. She is currently studying in London.
Photo: Getty Images
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I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.