Matt Niswonger

Digital Apocalypse: Not all rabbit holes lead to Wonderland

digital apocalypse

NEARLY 9 IN TEN TEENS ARE ONLINE EITHER “almost constantly” or “several times a day,” according to a new report from Pew Research Center. Half of all teens say they feel addicted to their mobile devices.

That’s right, 50 percent of teens actually admitted that they feel addicted in this major study that was just released.

Not only do teens feel they can’t put their devices down, but their parents know it (59 percent) and many parents themselves can’t put their own devices down (27 percent), according to a Washington Post article published on May 31, 2018.

“Generation Z” describes anyone born between 2000 and 2010. On behalf of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and the rest of the smartphone/social media pioneers from my generation who figured out how to highjack your brains, I would like to apologize to Generation Z. We built something more addictive than cocaine and put it in your hands. Now that the genie is out of the bottle people like Zuckerberg are grinning sheepishly and apologizing for their own success as billions of dollars flow into their bank accounts.

This hits close to home because all three of my kids are on their phones constantly. I’m not exactly sure how concerned I should be, but any parent is worried when a child’s behavior changes so drastically. I have been warning them that big changes are coming, and new family policies are going to be enforced using draconian methods, but they just groan and go back to YouTube and Snapchat.

Outside of my own family, this same drastic behavioral change is happening everywhere. Everywhere I go, I see adults looking at little screens. You’d have to be blind not to see that we are in the middle of a vast, rapid change in social behavior.

This behavior change also hits close to home, in a different way. Adventure Sports Journal is a free printed magazine that has been distributed for about 18 years now. Starting in 2010, we also duplicated our entire product online. With a tiny staff of hard working, underpaid people — which includes my wife Cathy who virtually runs everything, lays out the entire printed magazine, and sells most of the advertising — we basically publish every article three times: once in print, once on our website, and once on social media. We also go to outdoor festivals, races and tradeshows on the weekends. As a “mom and pop” business Cathy works more than full time on ASJ, and I also work a blue collar job on the side, which ranges from part time to full time, depending on the season. Needless to say, we are maxed out and probably close to burned out. We started ASJ to chronicle our lifestyle of outdoor adventure, but these days we are lucky to squeeze in a few bike rides a week, a trip to the climbing gym, a short surf session, or maybe just a spin class.

I mention these personal struggles because in both my parenting challenge of dealing with teens who are always online, and professionally where the workload is just simply not sustainable anymore, the bottleneck is the internet. Frankly, as a parent and as a publisher, the internet has not made my life any easier. Just the opposite, sometimes it feels as if the internet is ruining my life.

Professionally I feel like a seventh grader who tries too hard to make friends. We work our asses off to put out this wonderful free magazine that inspires people to adopt a healthy lifestyle of outdoor adventure. We know we have a large following in print, because we get lots of emails, affirmation through our journalists and props from readers we see at events. Still, somehow this is not good enough. After producing an entire print magazine, we now must go hustle the same articles online, and promote ourselves twice as hard to get likes, comments and shares on social media. Again, it’s my same experience of seventh grade, where I spread myself too thin and chased “the popular crowd” when I should have just appreciated the handful of close friends I’d known for years.

If you are reading this article in print, we appreciate that. You picked up ASJ in a coffee shop, or a climbing gym, or brought a copy home after shopping at REI. To me it’s a no brainer that you would enjoy these articles in a large printed format on paper instead of on a tiny smart phone screen, but apparently most “media experts” don’t see it that way. According to them, print media is going the way of the horse and buggy, and ten hours a day spent on a little screen is the new normal.

We are lucky to have a core group of steady advertisers in our print magazine, but getting new advertising customers is getting harder and harder. Potential advertisers have told me, “I know ASJ has a large following, but my hands are tied. The new corporate marketing manager says our entire ad budget is digital now …” In other words he wants their company represented in a series of tiny display ads that annoyingly pop up on your phone, and are highly “targeted” because your personal data profile has been bought and sold a thousand times without your knowledge or consent. Genius! That marketing manager must have gotten his degree at an online college.

I could go on and on but here is the deal: If you like getting inspired to pursue a lifestyle of outdoor adventure in the old school printed magazine format, I need to hear from you. If you think print magazines are not going away because they offer a richer, more serene experience than clicking through articles online, then please let me know. We will share these emails with our readers in future issues.

If on the other hand, you think print media truly is obsolete and you won’t miss it, I’d like to hear that argument too. If that’s the case, I’d rather quit now than die a long slow death. In the meantime, I am done trying so hard to gain digital followers. Honestly I am so over the internet I could just puke. In fact, if I read one more “Top Five Celebrity Diets” list I’m going to throw my phone in the ocean. Screw you Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs! You made my life worse, not better.

Comments? Send me an email ( and we will print as many as possible in our “Inbox” section of … you guessed it … our print version!

—Matt Niswonger