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
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
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
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
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
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
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