Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The young adapt

During the uproar that followed the October 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast about an invasion from Mars, one of the arguments used by those urging greater regulation of the radio industry was that children were especially vulnerable when scary radio programs seemed real. Yet research found that children and teenagers were actually less fooled by the broadcast than their parents and grandparents.

These kids were more familiar with science fiction, either because of other radio dramas or pulp magazines, than older generations. They were also more likely to recognize the voice of Orson Welles. "Because kids knew the medium better than adults," A. Brad Schwartz writes, "they would have been more likely to pick up on cues that War of the Worlds was fiction."

And so things haven't changed much. Youngsters of my own generation mastered television before our parents. Then with VCRs. DVDs, DVRs, home computers, smartphones and every other advance in consumer technology, same thing. The young adapted more quickly than their elders.

The July 17 issue of Sports Illustrated has an item about a study commissioned by SportsBusiness Journal that found that the TV audience for nearly every major sport is aging faster than the general population. Only international soccer has an average viewing age under 40. For the NFL, the average age is 50, for baseball it's 55, for NASCAR 58, for PGA golf 64. Does this mean younger people are not interested in sports? Well some sports perhaps. But mostly, says Sports Illustrated, the results suggest young fans are following their favorite teams and athletes using other media. Even I, hardly a youngster, sometimes watch soccer games on my iPad.

During the three days last week we spent with our son and his family in the Smokies, the TV was turned on just once, to watch a soccer game. Their phones were on continually, however. I don't even own a cell phone.

As it is with sports, so it may be with books, not so much a decline in interest as a change of media. Those of us who grew up with books, magazines and newspapers all printed on paper have difficulty understanding the appeal of reading these same things on electronic gadgets. Just as in 1938, the kids adapt, their elders get confused.

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