Well, that was interesting! I had just started reading a story from the New York Times about the worsening Covid crisis in Brazil. when suddenly a pop-up appeared, lower left, cordially asking me whether I would like to spend "no more than 25 minutes" taking a survey.
Ordinarily, I do not take surveys. I know the kind of wonks who are hired to construct these kinds of personal-information trawls, and they are not to be trusted with what one thinks, or the background behind those conclusions.
But this was the Times asking me to participate, so I clicked Yes, and they duly took my name, state of residence (the marketing company named as the survey-taker, once I had acceded to taking the survey, did not ask me for my address, or I would have known immediately that it was some sort of scam), and age. With those pieces of information, I had completed three percent of the survey.
Part Four asked me what devices I owned, and listed about 20 kinds of electronic or digital devices.
Smartwatches. Remember the Dick Tracy cartoon strip that had the hero using "two-way wrist-radio" and "two-way wrist TV" way back in the last century? The late cartoonist Chester Gould was decades ahead of his time. Fitness timers. A bunch of little digital widgets I'd never heard of.
I dutifully noted my Samsung Galaxy and laptop.
Now, the survey-takers wanted to know how I got my information and entertainment. I answered that I read newspapers and magazines, I looked at YouTube videos, and a couple more of the social-media categories, among at least 20, the last dozen of which began with the word "digital."
You can imagine my surprise when, after clicking the "Done" button for this section, rather than the next section of the survey, a sparse message came up telling me that I "did not qualify" for this survey, and "thank you for reading" the Times! If this poll had been conducted on the telephone, you could have heard the same automated female voice that tells you "you have reached a number that has changed or is no longer in service."
Thinking about it afterwards, I reckoned that the reason for the survey-takers' summary dismissal of me is that I am not modern enough. I gather that those whom the survey-takers were attempting to contact were individuals who had thoroughly embraced the Digital Twenty-first Century.
And just to be sure of the effectiveness of the survey-takers' algorithm, I went back and clicked on another story in the list of stories being covered by the Times today, to see whether I would again be asked to take a survey. Frankly, I will probably go back tomorrow and see whether I am remembered for an old-school, mostly non-digital citizen.
But today, at least, the information from an old intellectual codger like me is not needed for a survey that is undoubtedly directed at people who use multiple, or many, platforms, and somewhere along that path of information-and-entertainment gleaning spend money.
Obviously, in a capitalist economic paradigm, the survey-takers, and the New York Times, want those who are inclined to pay for their digital rush, whether as business or pleasure, to spend more money on more different products.
These survey-takers are appealing to the same curious-cats impulse that induces people to buy "financial products."
I am no expert on the current cash flows the Times and other opinion-leader newspapers now employ to remain profitable. But one thing is clear: the money derived from the selling the old-style printing of information on paper-- subscriptions-- is no longer the major sustainer of newspapers, at least not major opinion-leaders like the Times and four or five other papers, from DC, LA, Chi, Atlanta and Boston.
Newspapers, books, paper itself, are becoming obsolete. Even without a pandemic, American schools went digital years ago.
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