Saturday, December 22, 2007

Keeping up with new technologies

I've been reading Mitchell Stephens' Rise of the Image, the Fall of the Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) for my last class at the Harvard Extension School, and came upon this quote on page 169:
Writing about the digital world today is as perilous as writing about the cinematic world must have seemed a century ago. It is difficult to keep up. New terms, techniques and devices seem to take possession of the cognoscenti every couple of years.
Every couple of years? How about every couple of days! Some of the sites and tools that I reference on this website and my blog didn't even exist a year or two ago, and I am constantly asked about new, previously unheard-of services that have some special feature or niche audience. It's impossible to keep up with all of them, let alone to keep track of the ones that I already know about. For instance, I found out this morning that News At Seven -- an automated news-gathering application that I first checked out last year -- dropped the Half Life game engine and went into public beta nearly two months ago. There is no way of knowing about these developments unless I use the applications on a regular basis, or hear about them from some other source, like a blog or a MSM outlet.

To be fair, Stephens wrote this 10 years ago, when the creative tools behind consumer technology and media was mostly controlled by deep-pocketed companies and skilled programmers. So much has changed since then. The cost of building applications and websites has dropped a great deal, there are hundreds of millions of new users with broadband connections, and there are lots of inexpensive or free tools that audience members can use on their own to create content or build their own sites and services.

And while Stephens did not anticipate tools and technologies such as Blogger, virtual worlds, machinima, Facebook, or the rise of open-source software, he did foresee user-generated video:
Producing video is no longer going to be a skill mastered only on the job. It should become an art form kids learn at about the age they learn how to draw a face, play the guitar or navigate the Internet. Video should no longer be the private tool of professionals in the employ of advertising agencies and media conglomerates or of well funded artists. Teenagers should be playing with it; friends should be staying in touch on it; radicals may challenge the status quo through it; academics should eventually be warned to produce it or perish. Video will be shot by amateurs and freelancers; it will be edited in basements, in garrets.

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