News, media & communications

Not watched and not trusted

US television networks have witnessed a 34% fall in Nielson ratings for their nightly news programmes over the past decade. Viewing of local news and cable stations is also either falling or static. The reason could be to do with programme quality (most stations have drastically reduced their budgets since 1994) but it's probably more to do with a lack of trust. Research conducted by the Pew Research Center reports that media believability has declined across all networks since 1998. Local and national newspapers don't fare much better either. But it's not all bad news for the networks. Nightly news generates US $ 500 million in revenues for the major networks.

Ref: The Atlantic Monthly (US), June 2004.

Guerrilla movies

If the brainwash film festival in Oakland (California) is emblematic of an emerging trend it's the desire of individuals to be part of a community. Guerrilla movies are where movie buffs turn up in empty parking lots, alleys and public spaces to screen art house movies. The idea is that anyone with US $1,000 worth of technology and access to a wall or a white sheet can now show up with their own movie theatre and interact with other like minded people. Permission to do this is not requested and is not required either. By the time the authorities hear about these events the organisers have disappeared. What's interesting about this is how it challenges the idea of public space. It also highlights the fact that despite the ubiquity of home DVD, plasma screens and entertainment systems, some people are starving for interaction with other people.

Ref: New York Times (US), 29 July 2004.

Phoney functions

Most people who wanted a mobile phone now own one. This has given phone companies a bit of a headache - how to get people to upgrade to a new phone. The result is a variety of innovations, some sublime and some ridiculous. The latest offerings include a phone that can tell you if your breath smells (Siemens), lights which 'dance' in tune to some music (Motorola), MMS postcards (T-mobile) and a number to give to people in pubs when you don't want to give out your real number (Virgin mobile). So here's an idea. What about building a torch function into handsets so you can use your phone to read maps, find your keys or look up a number on a bit of old fashioned paper?

What if...?

It can only be a matter of time before you can check in to a motel in the middle of nowhere that offers every movie ever made in any language you want. Indeed, it won't be too long until every major film, television programme, radio show, album, book and magazine that's ever existed is available to download on any gadget of you choice. This could include computers, televisions, mobile phones or giant roll up screens. The question is, if everything is available instantly, how do you create value? The answer is probably in tailoring choice to the individual and editing out the rubbish.

Digital dinosaurs

Some trends are so big they create counter trends. Most technophiles can't wait to get their hands on the latest bit of technology while others crave retro technology. Good examples include people buying 15-year-old mobile phones and 20-year-old games consoles on eBay. For most people such moves are simply an expression of individuality. For others it's a quiet protest against the intrusion of technology. Of course there are some drawbacks too - like the fact that a 15-year-old phone can only store about ten numbers - which is why products like Pokia offer vintage handsets that plug straight in to modern mobiles. Other digital replicas include CDs that look like 45-rpm records, old-fashioned ring tones and new computers inside retro boxes (Façade Computers).

Ref: New York Times (US), 9 September 2004.

Unforeseen consequences of mobile phones

Smile if you work for Nokia. The Finnish company is now the world's largest manufacturer of cameras. Another unexpected consequence of the ubiquitous mobile phone is the death of the doorbell. These days people make approximate plans and then find each other with text messages and phone calls (or 'approxometers' as psychologist Christine Satchell calls them). The universal 'I'm on the train' is even being replaced with 'I'm outside' as people use phones as personalised doorbells. What's next? - maybe text and picture messaging will replace greetings cards.

Ref: Sydney Morning Herald (AUS), 9 & 10 November 2004.

You can ring my bell (but don't leave me hanging on the telephone)

There is anecdotal evidence that a small but growing army of mobile phone users are turning off functions like voicemail. Such non-users tend to be older and very busy. The reason is also partly economic and even altruistic. Why, for example, should people have to pay to leave a message or pay to retrieve one? If something is important people will call again so the theory goes. How did we cope before the days of email and mobile phones?