Friday, May 11, 2012

Convergence at Zero: The Pitfalls of Multimedia

Multimedia devices are all the rage right now.  I feel cheaply dinosaur-like in the fact that my phone mostly only makes calls.  As a matter of efficiency and convenience, man has always attempted to make multi-tools.  It seems we are headed towards more and more things, especially media related functions, being done by the same device.  This has a mix of consequences, largely bad ones.  Technology arbitrarily brings together different functions and media in a way that feels like a mere accident of technology.  Psychologically, we begin to associate those things together, however disparate they may actually be, because they are all under the same device.  The value and uniqueness of individual media is blurred.  The media begin to take on each others characteristics for better or worse.  In bringing all of these media together, they become united through the lowest common denominator of noise, entertainment and boredom relief.

When two things are brought together under one tool, we begin to associate those things together.  It is impossible not to.  Just look at how the combination of television and car has radically changed parents' conception of long car trip.  The connection of functions and media is arguably arbitrary and just an accident of technology.  It is convenient but not necessarily good that these things have come together.  Multimedia devices bring together so many functions that a few decades ago would never be associated together.  Who would have thought fifty years ago that you could call someone through the same device you watch television? 

These arbitrary associations lead to the breakdown of the value and uniqueness of each individual medium.  A movie is the same as a television show, which is the same as a video game, which is the same as a music album, which is the same as reading a book, which is even the same as making a phone call to a friend.  Each of these functions are morphed to one, despite being extremely different.

All of these media become united by their singular common denominator of noise, entertainment and boredom relief.  It promotes this constant state of "I'm bored.  Noise me."  This is monotony.  The quality of content becomes relativised because everything performs the basic monotonous function of passing time.  "I've got four hours to kill.  I could watch Lawrence of Arabia or four hours of YouTube videos or two hours of each going back and forth in two minute segments.  It's all the same."  Each separate medium is poisoned by the common denominator and is forced away from whatever lofty artistic goals it may have aspired to and whatever meaningful and unique ways it might have engaged us so that it can be a simplistic time killer.  If you remember to count phone calls as one of the functions of a multimedia device, even friendships could begin to be judged by entertainment value.  Everything also becomes increasingly like television because that is the medium that audiences have the most exposure and comfort level with.  Some movie theaters have even started showing television commercials before movies, thus to some extent ruining an experience that, despite similarities, ought to be different than television.  I didn't drive to the movie theater to have the television in the living room experience.  Just looking at the movies themselves, the two-hour duration or ninety minutes for a kids movie seems pretty normative where longer movies used to abound.

This ad is a showcase of the depressing monotony of our pervasive media environment.

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