It is doing exactly that, but in unexpected ways.
The dimensions of the change are just now coming into focus. Not in obvious ways, such as the end of books, magazines and, indeed, reading itself, assassinated by Google and Twitter and Uncle Tom Kindle and all--but in more subtle and unhealthy ways.
Since 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts has released a quinquennial Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. The core findings of the sequence of reports are many, but they all point to the same thing: The audience for live classical music grows smaller, and older, every year. The same is true for jazz. And musicals. And nonmusical plays. And sports.
Within a generation or two, live musical performance and the theatre will probably vanish forever in the developed countries, replaced by the kid who hits his dad in the groin playing baseball and the kitty that falls off the TV on YouTube.
We cannot be bothered to get off our increasingly large rear ends and go out to see things, even in 3-D, Avatar notwithstanding. Why would we, when we can watch it all on our increasingly large and increasingly cheap flat-screen TVs and computer monitors?
With broadband Internet always on, we don't even need to stagger across the room to find the remote to turn the TV on. The truth? We can't handle the truth, as declining audiences for TV news shows proves. And the declining quality of those shows--"after the break, 35 seconds on healthcare reform"--is more a consequence than a cause. To insulate ourselves from nasty old reality, we'd rather watch the glib and smug Jon Stewart than the ditto John Edwards. (That's not, strictly speaking, a criticism.)
So mankind is going to hell in a hand basket. What else is new? Your great-grandfather played the piano and could recite half the Bible by heart. Your grandfather invented chemical processes and read Dickens and Proust. Your father went to the theatre weekly and read the Saturday Evening Post. You have a metal bar through your nose and read lottery tickets. Your child thinks books smell funny and would rather wait to see the movie on his iPhone.
Our lives grow longer, but infinitely less interesting. We want our experiences at second- or thirdhand. The pioneer spirit has atrophied to the point where what's exciting is to watch a different TV channel every now and then, such as SyFy. Yes, SyFy. It changed its spelling because the next generation of Star Trekkers couldn't pronounce SciFi, has never read a work of science fiction, may never have read a work of fiction at all, and thinks of a great night out as, well, a great night in. We no longer participate; we observe.
What does all this mean for insurance companies? It means that the nature of the risks against which they offer indemnification is changing too. It means fewer accidents outside the home, but more diabetes within. Fewer knees damaged while running and more damaged while getting up from the sofa, unable to carry the wide load. Fewer spectators hit by a fly ball and more spectators hit by carpal tunnel syndrome from flipping through the channels.
Good news of a sort lurks in all this. Greater public safety, the official goal of the nanny state, is a given, although more people are hurt by accidents in the home, such as sticking their fingers into the toaster, than by accidents in the great outdoors. Unless you worry that safe means bland, and that your grandchildren won't know what a tree looks like, you're probably OK with what's happening. Good luck.
ROGER CROMBIE is a Bermuda-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®.
April 1, 2010
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