As a technology, it is called multimedia. As a revolution, it is the sum ofmany revolutions wrapped into one: A revolution in communication that combinesthe audio visual power of television, the publishing power of the printingpress, and the interactive power of the computer. Multimedia is theconvergence of these different professions, once thought independent of oneanother, coming together to form a new technological approach to the wayinformation and ideas are shared. What will society look like under the evolving institutions of interactivemultimedia 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 dawningdigital age in which the humble television will mutate into a two-way mediumfor a vast amount of information and entertainment. We can expect to see:movies-on-demand, video games, databases, educational programming, homeshopping, telephone services, telebanking, teleconferencing, even the complexsimulations of virtual reality. This souped-up television will itself be apowerful computer. This, many believe, will be the world’s biggest mediagroup, letting consumers tune into anything, anywhere, anytime. The most extraordinary thing about the multimedia boom, is that so many mogulsare spending such vast sums to develop digital technologies, for the deliveringof programs and services which are still largely hypothetical.
So what is behind such grand prophecies? Primarily, two technological advancesknown as digitization (including digital compression), and fibre optics. Both are indispensable to the high-speed networks that will deliver dynamic newservices to homes and offices. Digitization means translating information,either video, audio, or text, into ones and zeros, which make it easier tosend, store, and manipulate. Compression squeezes this information so thatmore of it can be sent using a given amount of transmission capacity orbandwidth. Fibre-optic cables are producing a vast increase in the amount of bandwidthavailable. Made of glass so pure that a sheet of it 70 miles thick would be asclear as a window-pane, and the solitary strand of optical fibre the width of ahuman hair can carry 1,000 times as much information as all radio frequenciesput together.
This expansion of bandwidth is what is making two-waycommunication, or interactivity, possible. Neither digitization nor fibre optics is new. But it was only this year thatAmerica’s two biggest cable-TV owners, TCI and Time Warner , said they wouldspend $2 billion and $5 billion respectively to deploy both technologies intheir systems, which together serve a third of America’s 60m cable homes. Soon, some TCI subscriptions will be wired to receive 500 channels rather thanthe customary 50; Time Warner will launch a trail full-service network inFlorida with a range of interactive services. These two announcements signaled the start of a mad multimedia scramble inAmerica, home market to many of the world’s biggest media, publishing, telecomsand computer companies, almost all of which have entered the fray. The reasonsare simple: greed and fear: greed for new sources of revenue; fear thatprofits from current businesses may fall as a result of reregulation orcut-throat competition.
Multimedia has already had a profound affect on how these businesses interactwith one another. Mergers such as Time Warner, Turner Broadcasting, andParamount have set the stage. These companies continue the race to be thefirst to lay solid infrastructure, and set new industry standards. Followingin the shadows will be mergers between: software, film, television, publishing,and telephone industries, each trying to gain market share in the emergingmarket. So far, most firms have rejected the hostile takeovers that marked the mediabusiness in the 1980s. Instead, they have favored an array of alliances andjoint ventures akin to Japan’s loose-knit Keiretsu business groupings.
TCI’sboss, John Malone, evokes “octopuses with their hands in each other’spockets-where one starts and the other stops will be hard to decide. ” Thesealliances represent a model of corporate structure which many see as meremarriages of convenience, in which none wants to miss out on any futuristicmarkets. One may wonder how this race for market share and the merging of thesecorporations will affect them personally. Well, at this point and time, it ishard 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 earlypioneers such as Atari, Nintindo, and Sega. These companies started with simplegames, but as technology increased, it began to open up new doors. The gamesthemselves are becoming more sophisticated and intelligent and are now offeringsome of the first genres capable of attracting and holding an adult audience. Just around the corner looms the promise of interactive television, whichthreatens to turn the standard American couch potato into the newly rejuvenatedcouch commando. Through interactive television, which will actually be acombination of the telephone, computer, and television, you will have access toshopping, movies, and other types of information on demand.
As this technologyincreases, 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 toactually feel and think you are in another place. For instance, going shoppingat a mall could be done in the privacy of your own living room, by juststrapping on your headgear. Another break through in the home market is videotelephony. These are telephone systems that also broadcast video images.
Imagine beingable to communicate instantly with voice, picture, and text with a businesscolleague or a loved one thousands of miles away. Interactive multimedia systems promise to revolutionize education. In acomplex world of constant change, where knowledge becomes obsolete every fewyears, education can no longer be something that one aquires during youth toserve for an entire lifetime. Rather, education must focus on instilling theability to continue learning throughout life. Fortunately, theinformation-technology revolution is creating a new form of electronic,interactive education that should blossom into a lifelong learning system thatallows almost anyone to learn almost anything from anywhere, at anytime. Thekey technology in future education is interactive multimedia.
The purpose of multimedia in education as in so many other multimediaapplications, is to: enhance the transfer of information, encourageparticipation, stimulate the senses and enhance information retention. Multimedia uses a powerful combination of earlier technologies that constitutesan extraordinary advance in the capability of machines to assist theeducational 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. Althoughmultimedia has been technically feasible for many years, only recently has itbecome a major focus for commercial development.
Interactive multimedia systemscan serve a variety of purposes but their great power resides in highlysophisticated software that employs scientifically based educational methods toguide the student through a path of instruction individually tailored to suitthe special needs of each person. As instruction progresses and intelligent systems are used, the system learnsabout the student’s strengths and weaknesses and then uses this knowledge tomake the learning experience fit the need of that particular student. Interactive multimedia has several key advantages. First, students receivetraining when and where they need it. An instructor does not have to bepresent, so students can select the time best suited to their personalschedules.
Second, students can adjourn training at any point in the lesson andreturn to it later. Third, the training is highly effective because it isbased on the most powerful principles of individualized learning. Students findthe program interesting, so they stick with it. Retention of the materiallearned is excellent. Fourth, the same videodisk equipment can be used tosupport a variety of training paths.
Last, both the training and the testingare objectively and efficiently measured and tracked. Educational systems of this type, offered by IBM under the product labeledUltimedia, engage students in an interactive learning experience that mixescolor movie, bold graphics, music, voice narration, and text; for instance, theprogram Columbus allows students to relive the great navigator’s voyages andexplore the New World as it looked when Columbus first saw it. The ability tocontrol the learning experience makes the student an active rather than apassive learner. Other common systems include Sim City, Carmen San Diego, and a variety ofpopular multimedia games created by Broderbound Softwarek, one of the biggestcompanies in this new field. Rather than old drill and kill forms ofcomputerized instruction that bore students, this new entertaining form ofeducation is far more effective precisely because kids get totally immersed inan exciting experience.
Classroom computers with multimedia capabilities seem to have sky-rocketed inevery 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 theircurricular schedules and school calendar. Most will agree that classroomcomputers seem to have a positive effect on students of the 90’s. As schoolsand universities become more technology driven, there will be an even biggerplea for more multimedia enhancements. The 1980’s witnessed the introduction and widespread use of personal computersat all levels of schooling.
During the decade the number of computers used inU. S. elementary and secondary schools increased from under 100,000 to over 2. 5million. A majority of students now use computers and computer softwaresometime during the school-year, either to learn about computers or as a toolfor learning other subjects. By the end of the decade, the typical school had1 computer per 20 students, a ration that computer educators feel is still nothigh enough to affect classroom learning as much as books and classroomconversion do.