Times are a changin' | Wally's World

As the man once said more than 40 years ago,  "The Times They Are A-changin'."

While wandering about the Internet, where many of us find ourselves when we've nothing else to do, I ran across the usual cornucopia of porn and, of more interest, some surveys indicating there have been certain significant shifts in public trends and behavior in relatively recent years.

For instance, an NBC/New York Times poll indicates American youth ages 18 to 25 are not only leaving rural areas, which has been the case for the last century, but are also forsaking the suburbs – surprise! – and are migrating into major metropolitan regions like Chicago, New York and Minneapolis. And with this demographic shift, young people are apparently giving up on cars and the grind of the daily commute and are turning toward mass transit, which should make the environmentalists very happy. (The recent, celebrated success of the auto industry seems to be sustained not by youth, but by middle-aged suburbanities.) Prior to the turn of this century, 74 percent of 19-year-olds had a driver's license; today that figure has dropped to 46 percent.

Reading a newspaper used to be a daily ritual for nearly everyone 20 or older but, of late, only about 7 percent of Americans between 19 and 24 read a newspaper with any regularity, often only the Sunday edition. (An important exception is "Wally's World," which several unreliable sources indicate is still read by half the world's population every week.)

Apparently, the popularity of smoking continues to wane, much to the joy of lovers everywhere. Between 2005 and 2010, the number of smokers between 18 and 24 decreased by 18 percent.

The amount of time young adults spend in a dulled stupor before the TV screen is also down sharply, from 38 hours a week 20 years ago to roughly 20 hours a week today. Of course, much of this decrease is taken up in a dulled stupor before the computer screen, but even this is changing. Bulky, personal computers are being replaced by laptops – both at work and at play – and the laptop, in turn, is being scrapped for tablets, iPhones, and ever more compact and portable devices, which suggests that, instead of sinking into the living-room couch, young people are at least out and about the streets texting their locations to friends.

Along this line, a mere 20 years ago nearly 100 percent of adults age 20 to 30 had "land phones." Today, only about 51 percent do –which is cool enough until a major storm knocks out power for a substantial length of time.

During the past few years, the national movie box office gross had remained constant, but only because ticket prices had increased.    Numerous surveys, if we need them to verify what many of us have observed first-hand, indicate the actual number of people going to theaters has been dropping the past five years or so. Furthermore, the so-called blockbuster films are becoming more and more PG rated, family-approved fare and audiences are becoming younger all the time.

There are some changes that social scientists attributed to the current recession, but I suspect even after the economy recovers these trends may continue or at least stabilize near present levels. For example, 25 percent of single adults between 18 and 30 are living with lovers and have postponed getting married, which is the highest that figure has ever been. Meanwhile, the proportion of married adults is in decline;  today only 51 percent of our population is married, the lowest that figure has ever been. Twenty-two percent of married couples have postponed having children or have decided not to have any.

What unforeseen consequences these trends may have on the general society is anyone's guess. I'd submit they're evidence that our economy is no longer based on industrial production – Boeing and the auto industry withstanding – but has moved well into the Digital Age and it's this revolution that has sparked many of these changes.

But there's one thing that hasn't changed, much to my delight. The popularity of booze, especially beer, continues unabated.   However, there's been a shift away from regular brew toward lighter fare; of late, Bud light has replaced regular Bud as the best-selling beer among the younger set. The heaviest beer drinkers are still males between 21 and 30 years old.

It's reassuring to know some things remain constant.

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