The cable guy and the web of doom

There`s been so much talk about the Internet lately, and it has been so loud and full of superlatives, that I`m reminded of one of those fast-paced, action-packed promos for an Indiana Jones movie. So are we cable guys getting caught in the web of doom?

Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.

Group Editorial Director

There`s been so much talk about the Internet lately, and it has been so loud and full of superlatives, that I`m reminded of one of those fast-paced, action-packed promos for an Indiana Jones movie. So are we cable guys getting caught in the web of doom?

It seems crystal clear to me that the Internet is here to stay and that it`s transforming the global business environment. It`s equally certain that this phenomenon is a major driver behind the rapid growth of the cabling industry, including both the inside- and outside-wire sectors. The World Wide Web, then, is spelling "opportunity" and not "doom" for the cabling industry.

But what about the trade journals and other hard-copy communications media serving the industry? Will they go the way of the dinosaurs, as some analysts are predicting, to be replaced exclusively by online and electronic information services?

I think not, for several reasons. The first of these is that--currently, at least--the Internet and print media are more complementary than competitive. By that, I mean Internet information services are good at doing certain things and not necessarily others, while print publications are adept at doing those other things, while perhaps not being so good yet at the Internet-type things.

To distinguish between the two types of media, I have merely to look at how I, personally, use them. Most business organizations, institutions, and publications now have Internet Websites, so when I need hard facts and want them quickly, I surf the Web. Indeed, the Internet is a first-class source of up-to-the-minute news, if you know how to find what you are looking for.

However, there are certain kinds of information I don`t go to the Web for. If I need in-depth analysis of the technical environment, reliable observation of business trends, or trustworthy advice on how to do my job, I depend on print media. Why? Because I have a long-term relationship with the print publications I read, and I trust them to inform me of what`s going on behind the events of the day. Besides, they come to me at my home or office, so I don`t have to navigate that intimidating hodgepodge that makes up the Internet.

A second argument in favor of the peaceful coexistence of print and electronic media comes from history. I`ve been alive long enough to remember the widespread belief that television would replace radio, and there are a few people still alive who can recall that earlier in this century, radio was expected to lead to the demise of the printed book. How have these predictions fared?

According to a recent analysis of communications media, the print industry continued to grow at a double-digit rate in the late 1990s; although daily newspaper publishing is in long-term decline, the number of periodicals available today remains steady, and book titles published continue to grow substantially each year.

Radios, by the way, continue to be used in 99% of American homes, despite the advent of television, and TVs have reached the same level of penetration of the U.S. market.

Movie attendance, following a huge decline in the 1950s and 1960s, is on the way back, and motion-picture box-office receipts have shown steady growth since the first statistics were compiled in the 1920s.

What the statistics tell us is really just a quantitative version of what we`ve learned through experience and our common sense: Different communications media generally don`t disappear but tend to find niches that capitalize on their strengths. For Internet information services, that niche appears at this point to be the timely delivery of factual information. For specialized trade journals, it is likely to remain the periodical delivery of reliable and in-depth analysis and commentary.

Any debate over electronic versus print media is probably moot, anyway, since most print organizations are rapidly developing Internet arms, in some cases launching them as independent Internet dot.coms with specialized staffs. This is the case with PennWell, which recently announced its PennNet Internet company would be completely separate from the PennWell parent organization. Other business-to-business publishers and information providers have launched similar endeavors.

So, what can you take away from all of this? You`ll continue to receive Cabling Installation & Maintenance in your mailbox each month, along with all the other business and technical periodicals you now read. You`ll also be able to find complementary (but probably not identical) information on these periodicals` and other information companies` Websites.

The Internet, then, spells not "doom" but "opportunity" for the information providers serving the cabling industry as well as the cabling industry itself.

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