Jeffrey Cole, a leading voice on media communication, brought his message of survival in the digital age to a nearly full Garvin Theatre at Santa Barbara City College on Friday night. His advice: adapt or die.

“Half of the 3-year-olds are online,” Cole told the audience. “Eighty percent of teenagers sleep next to their phone.”

Businesses and consumers alike must get with that program, too, or they may find themselves left behind in the rapidly evolving electronic environment, he said.

Cole, a research professor and director of the Center for the Digital Future at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, has been exploring the Internet and its users for decades. In 2000, he started the World Internet Project to track the web and its influences on societies in 35 countries.

He said he started the project because he noticed a lack of meaningful research on television as a mass medium, where it came from and how it changed life trends of its viewers.

“We blew it,” he said. “We lost a great opportunity with television.

“We think television will explode … be bigger than it’s ever been … become our constant companion,” he continued. “At the same time as we’re putting these little frames in our pockets, we’re putting bigger and better screens in our homes. The gap between the home and the theater has never been so narrow.”

Cole said no medium goes away. “They adapt,” he said, reminding the audience that the radio didn’t roll over and die because of TV.

Social networking is the latest boom within the viral world, and Cole said there’s a big role for businesses and their way of marketing themselves. A Montecito boutique owner asked him whether her small business could survive without selling products on its website. Cole said it could, but that he would recommend she consider Amazon’s expansion with same-day delivery threatening even corner stores.

Cole’s appearance was the first lecture in a series introducing SBCC’s new non-credit based adult education division, the Center for Lifelong Learning.

SBCC executive vice president Jack Friedlander told Noozhawk the center aims to develop social networking skills within the community to see “how it’s affecting businesses, their kids, their lives,” and to explore where it’s going next.

The center will offer courses in the subject, he added.

“This is the community’s resource,” he said.

Noozhawk intern Gabriella Slabiak can be reached at gslabiak@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Audience members gather around guest speaker Jeffrey Cole to continue the Q&A session after his lecture at Santa Barbara City College's Garvin Theatre on Friday night. (Gabriella Slakbiak / Noozhawk intern)
Audience members gather around guest speaker Jeffrey Cole to continue the Q&A session after his lecture at Santa Barbara City College’s Garvin Theatre on Friday night. (Gabriella Slakbiak / Noozhawk intern)