A few years ago, a community development specialist and true-blue Extension professional bluntly stated that the only viable strategy for many declining rural communities was a Hospice approach.
About all that could be done for residents in these terminal communities, he believed, was to make the downward spiral as painless as possible.
I was shocked. Then, after thinking about it, the rationalist in me prevailed. Why invest limited public resources in a community that has no hope for long-term survival?
Likewise, the thought occurred to me more than once that old media — and by that, I mean conventional mass media — should be managed much the same way. Futurist Alvin Toffler, author of the utterly prophetic book, the Third Wave, written more than a generation ago, saw things pretty much the same way. He foresaw the decline of conventional mass media. He even predicted that these older mass media — newspapers, radio and television — eventually would be superseded by what he aptly termed “demassified media.” (And what is the Web other than a form of radically demassified media?)
Toffler even predicted that all media, including what now passes as print and broadcast media, eventually would emanate from one device he described as a VDT (video display terminal). Granted, he didn’t get it completely right — yet, at least — though he was right about one thing: from Sirius Satellite Radio and Direct Broadcast Satellite to news and blog filtering, we’re exposed to an infinite variety of media driven entirely by individual choice. Back to that word again — demassification.
And that brings me back to my original point: What should we, as Extension professionals, do about conventional media?
Only a short time ago, my advice would have been to adopt a Hospice approach — to continue serving old media users as effectively as possible while devoting an ever greater number of our resources to new media.
Then the thought occurred to me: There no longer is such a thing has mass media. With the advent of the Web, everything, including conventional media, has become demassified.
People no longer are married to newspapers, radio and television stations, or even Web sites. They are interested only in content that suits them. In the case of the Web, for example, they are finding this content via search engines.
So, instead of a Hospice approach, my first advice would be simply to divest oneself of any residue of massified thinking. Newspaper, radio and television now are only small parts of a considerably larger picture — valuable, yes, but only elements of a much larger mosaic. Likewise, there is no such thing as an Extension audience but rather an infinite variety of micro-audiences that are still amenable to Extension knowledge, provided it’s disseminated in the right way.