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.