As a technology, it is called multimedia. As a revolution, it is the sum of many revolutions wrapped into one: A revolution in communication that combines the audio visual power of television, the publishing power of the printing press, and the interactive power of the computer. Multimedia is the convergence of these different professions, once thought independent of one another, coming together to form a new technological approach to the way information and ideas are shared.
What will society look like under the evolving institutions of interactive multimedia technologies? Well, if the 1980’s were a time for media tycoons, the 1990’s will be for the self-styled visionaries. These gurus see a dawning digital age in which the humble television will mutate into a two-way medium for a vast amount of information and entertainment. We can expect to see: movies-on-demand, video games, databases, educational programming, home shopping, telephone services, telebanking, teleconferencing, even the complex simulations of virtual reality. This souped-up television will itself be a powerful computer. This, many believe, will be the world’s biggest media group, letting consumers tune into anything, anywhere, anytime.
The most extraordinary thing about the multimedia boom, is that so many moguls are spending such vast sums to develop digital technologies, for the delivering of programs and services which are still largely hypothetical.
So what is behind such grand prophecies? Primarily, two technological advances known as digitization (including digital compression), and fibre optics.
Both are indispensable to the high-speed networks that will deliver dynamic new services to homes and offices. Digitization means translating information, either video, audio, or text, into ones and zeros, which make it easier to send, store, and manipulate. Compression squeezes this information so that more of it can be sent using a given amount of transmission capacity or bandwidth.
Fibre-optic cables are producing a vast increase in the amount of bandwidth available. Made of glass so pure that a sheet of it 70 miles thick would be as clear as a window-pane, and the solitary strand of optical fibre the width of a human hair can carry 1,000 times as much information as all radio frequencies put together. This expansion of bandwidth is what is making two-way communication, or interactivity, possible.
Neither digitization nor fibre optics is new. But it was only this year that America’s two biggest cable-TV owners, TCI and Time Warner , said they would spend $2 billion and $5 billion respectively to deploy both technologies in their systems, which together serve a third of America’s 60m cable homes. Soon, some TCI subscriptions will be wired to receive 500 channels rather than the customary 50; Time Warner will launch a trail full-service network in Florida with a range of interactive services.
These two announcements signaled the start of a mad multimedia scramble in America, home market to many of the world’s biggest media, publishing, telecoms and computer companies, almost all of which have entered the fray. The reasons are simple: greed and fear: greed for new sources of revenue; fear that profits from current businesses may fall as a result of reregulation or cut-throat competition.
Multimedia has already had a profound affect on how these businesses interact with one another. Mergers such as Time Warner, Turner Broadcasting, and Paramount have set the stage. These companies continue the race to be the first to lay solid infrastructure, and set new industry standards. Following in the shadows will be mergers between: software, film, television, publishing, and telephone industries, each trying to gain market share in the emerging market.
So far, most firms have rejected the hostile takeovers that marked the media business in the 1980s. Instead, they have favored an array of alliances and joint ventures akin to Japan’s loose-knit Keiretsu business groupings. TCI’s boss, John Malone, evokes “octopuses with their hands in each other’s pockets-where one starts and the other stops will be hard to decide.” These alliances represent a model of corporate structure which many see as mere marriages of convenience, in which none wants to miss out on any futuristic markets.
One may wonder how this race for market share and the merging of these corporations will affect them personally. Well, at this point and time, it is hard to say. However, there is some thought in the direction we are headed.
The home market, which was stated earlier, has its origins based around early pioneers such as Atari, Nintindo, and Sega. These companies started with simple games, but as technology increased, it began to open up new doors. The games themselves are becoming more sophisticated and intelligent and are now offering some of the first genres capable of attracting and holding an adult audience. Just around the corner looms the promise of interactive television, which threatens to turn the standard American couch potato into the newly rejuvenated couch commando. Through interactive television, which will actually be a combination of the telephone, computer, and television, you will have access to shopping, movies, and other types of information on demand. As this technology increases, it will give way to a form that is known as virtual reality.
Imagine, with the use of headgear, goggles, and sensory gloves, being able to actually feel and think you are in another place. For instance, going shopping at a mall could be done in the privacy of your own living room, by just strapping on your headgear. Another break through in the home market is video telephony.
These are telephone systems that also broadcast video images. Imagine being able to communicate instantly with voice, picture, and text with a business colleague or a loved one thousands of miles away.
Interactive multimedia systems promise to revolutionize education. In a complex world of constant change, where knowledge becomes obsolete every few years, education can no longer be something that one aquires during youth to serve for an entire lifetime. Rather, education must focus on instilling the ability to continue learning throughout life. Fortunately, the information-technology revolution is creating a new form of electronic, interactive education that should blossom into a lifelong learning system that allows almost anyone to learn almost anything from anywhere, at anytime. The key technology in future education is interactive multimedia.
The purpose of multimedia in education as in so many other multimedia applications, is to: enhance the transfer of information, encourage participation, stimulate the senses and enhance information retention. Multimedia uses a powerful combination of earlier technologies that constitutes an extraordinary advance in the capability of machines to assist the educational process. Interactive multimedia combines computer hardware, software, and peripheral equipment to provide a rich mixture of text, graphics, sound, animation, full-motion video, data, and other information. Although multimedia has been technically feasible for many years, only recently has it become a major focus for commercial development. Interactive multimedia systems can serve a variety of purposes but their great power resides in highly sophisticated software that employs scientifically based educational methods to guide the student through a path of instruction individually tailored to suit the special needs of each person.
As instruction progresses and intelligent systems are used, the system learns about the student’s strengths and weaknesses and then uses this knowledge to make the learning experience fit the need of that particular student. Interactive multimedia has several key advantages. First, students receive training when and where they need it. An instructor does not have to be present, so students can select the time best suited to their personal schedules. Second, students can adjourn training at any point in the lesson and return to it later. Third, the training is highly effective because it is based on the most powerful principles of individualized learning. Students find the program interesting, so they stick with it. Retention of the material learned is excellent. Fourth, the same videodisk equipment can be used to support a variety of training paths. Last, both the training and the testing are objectively and efficiently measured and tracked.
Educational systems of this type, offered by IBM under the product labeled Ultimedia, engage students in an interactive learning experience that mixes color movie, bold graphics, music, voice narration, and text; for instance, the program Columbus allows students to relive the great navigator’s voyages and explore the New World as it looked when Columbus first saw it. The ability to control the learning experience makes the student an active rather than a passive learner.
Other common systems include Sim City, Carmen San Diego, and a variety of popular multimedia games created by Broderbound Softwarek, one of the biggest companies in this new field. Rather than old drill and kill forms of computerized instruction that bore students, this new entertaining form of education is far more effective precisely because kids get totally immersed in an exciting experience.
Classroom computers with multimedia capabilities seem to have sky-rocketed in every faucet of the education arena. From pre-schoolers to college students, learning adapting to this multimedia craze was not hard to do.
Teachers and Professors alike share in this technology to plan out their curricular schedules and school calendar. Most will agree that classroom computers seem to have a positive effect on students of the 90’s. As schools and universities become more technology driven, there will be an even bigger plea for more multimedia enhancements.
The 1980’s witnessed the introduction and widespread use of personal computers at all levels of schooling. During the decade the number of computers used in U.S. elementary and secondary schools increased from under 100,000 to over 2.5 million. A majority of students now use computers and computer software sometime during the school-year, either to learn about computers or as a tool for learning other subjects. By the end of the decade, the typical school had 1 computer per 20 students, a ration that computer educators feel is still not high enough to affect classroom learning as much as books and classroom conversion do.