Posted by: Don Linnen | 19 July 2009

The New Normal

We lost Walter Cronkite last week . We started losing newspapers a couple of years ago. We’re losing good old page-turning, paperback books to these newfangled things called “wireless reading devices.”

Things are changing. Talk to most of my boomer buddies. They don’t like it. They don’t like text messages, Facebook pages, or tweets from Twitter. They want pages made of paper that they can turn and fold and use to scribble their notes. They want people they can trust like Uncle Walter. They want things back to normal. The way they used to be.

Get a grip fellow geezers. Pull up those relaxed-cut jeans. There’s a new normal coming to town.

Over the last few years, I’ve spent some time at Camp Esperanza. That’s a week long summer camp for 140 children battling cancer through Camp John Marc and Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. Those kids can teach us a lot.

A common denominator for every one of them and their families, is that they had to adapt to a new normal. Cancer is an equal opportunity disease. It offers a complete change to a “normal” family life with chemo treatments, surgery, rehab, and more. If it affects your family, the only choice you have is whether or not you’ll adapt to change.

Change is coming to the way we read. The new normal for readers will be the use of wireless reading devices. An easier name is “ereaders.”

Amazon leads the way with its Kindle. Sony is running a strong second. This week, Barnes & Noble announced their intention to enter the market with an ereader. AT&T announced they will play in this game. Newspapers are scrambling to save themselves.

It’s just a matter of time before a group of newspapers find their own hardware vendor to produce an inexpensive ereader tuned to their newspapers – and a few hundred thousand electronic books. The pitch? You can have our cheap ereader – maybe for free – if you subscribe to one of our newspapers for a few years.

It’s worked before. Mr. Gillette got rich selling razor blades after he gave away the razor.

The ability to adapt to change – even embrace it – is invaluable. The publishing business will adapt. The public as a whole will gripe – then gradually change. Some faster than others. When you have money, it’s easier to adapt to change.

What about the folks without money? What about those living in poverty? Yes, they still read. Maybe not as much, but they are more interested than we might imagine.

Earlier this month, Jenna Russell of the Boston Globe wrote about a book club for the homeless. Her article gives insight into a group of people many want to ignore. It’s a heartwarming story about a man who buys books for one small group in Boston.

But what about the homeless and near homeless across the nation? If the move to digital print has the momentum that I expect, where will the poor get their news, sports, and current events? What will nonprofits who serve the poor do to help those poor adapt to change?

How will the nonprofits themselves adapt? This is the first question to answer. If the nonprofits don’t adapt, the people they serve will fall further behind.

Yes. There will always be books and newspapers made of paper. Probably even an uptick in donated books. Classics endure. But current events are timely. If it starts costing more to read the news, the poor will be left out even more.

As the digital divide grows, how will nonprofits help the poor stay in touch with the world? How can nonprofits encourage self sufficiency if the poor cannot afford to read what’s happening around them?

These questions don’t have to be answered right now. But they do need to be considered now. It is early, but now is the time to start playing with the new tools of the 21st century. The more you understand, the easier it is to adapt. The more you are able to adapt, the more you can help others adapt.

The good news with these newfangled ereaders, you won’t have to worry about where you left your bifocals. Just crank that font size up to 44 on your ebook or enewspaper, sit back, and enjoy your read.

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