News, media & communications

We need to talk - but we no longer do

Last century the invention of the telephone created a revolution in how people communicated with each other, although it was initially marketed as being exclusively a business tool. Fast-forward to the present day and people are starting to hang up. The use of telephones (landlines, mobiles and smart-phones) to make or receive phone calls is trending rapidly downwards, both at home and at work. Indeed, according to Nielsen, a market research firm, text is likely to surpass voice within the next 36 months. Why is this happening and what could be the result?

Why is simple. Teens discovered some time ago that communicating by text is far cheaper than making voice calls. But it’s less awkward as well. Text based communications can be controlled more easily and can be ignored too. Voice calls, in contrast, can be awkward and intrusive. Text is therefore perfectly suited to a society where everyone is in a rush and wants to communicate instantly, but nobody has the time to listen attentively to what anyone else is saying. Voice suits meaningful conversation whereas text facilitates superficial connection. I should immediately point out that I am aware that you are reading this as text, but my response is that it’s not text per se that’s the issue. Rather it’s the fact that text is becoming so dominant and that the ways in which it is now delivered encourages an instant response rather than thoughtful questioning, analysis or reflection.

As to where things will go next it’s anyone’s call. For example, how do you convey tone with text and how do you pass on important information when your message gets caught up with things that are trivial and mundane? It’s difficult, which partly explains why text communication tends to be so focussed and why people increasingly text to ask if it’s ‘OK to call?’ The reality is that we will do more and more by text or email, but I suspect that we will soon start to realise that we need to offset some of the negative consequences. One solution could be text-based. GroupMe is an application that allows small groups of people to communicate with each other via text in ways that are difficult within larger groups. But this instinctively feels wrong. One of the biggest issues surrounding our use of digital devices is that our conversations are becoming mediated and meaning is therefore becoming diluted. Text tends not to reveal our true feelings, whereas social networks tempt us to massage our identities. Neither is reality.

A recent study revealed that the happiest people tend to be those that engage in deep conversation, so perhaps it’s time for us to stop telling the world how and where we are and to start asking the world, who are you? Perhaps we can do this by text, but I suspect that it would be done much better by voice, and ideally, in person. If we used our mobiles less, we’d talk more.
Ref: Various including; New York Times (US), 20 March 2011, ‘You don’t call me, I won’t call you’, by P. Paul. New York Times, 27 March 2011, ‘Talk to Me’ by T. Brady. Globe and Mail (Canada), 7 January 2011, ‘We need to talk’ by J. Timson.
Source integrity: Various
Search words: Conversation, talking, text, texting, voice
Trend tags: Digitalisation, virtualisation

Has Hollywood lost the plot?

Why, in an ageing society, would an industry remain focused almost exclusively on under-25s? Welcome to Hollywood folks, an industry so focused in on itself that it’s missing the biggest show in town. If Hollywood was producing good movies it might be forgiven, but it’s not. Most contemporary films are rubbish. They are mindless remakes, sequels or prequels. Hardly surprising that in the US audiences fell by 5% last year to the lowset level since 1995. What is surprising, perhaps, is that this lack of originality and quality isn’t particularly evident in the US television industry. Look, for example, at the complexity and sociological depth of The Sopranos, The Wire or Mad Men.

But this doesn’t seem to bother Hollywood. They just keep on churning out junk that tries the intelligence of the average adult, contains no plot worth remembering and costs upwards of $100 million to make (with another $50 million or so thrown in for marketing). Most of these movies are also safe in the sense that they are usually based on existing content or brands (an old comic book character, old TV show or book) that will appeal to an international audience (largely attention-deficit-disordered 12-year-old males).

Hollywood partly justifies all this by claiming that adults don’t go to the movies, which is why most of them have closed down their ‘indie’ divisions. But that’s nonsense. Look, for example, at the success of The King’s Speech. So what’s next? The biggest issue is the future is that nobody is quite sure how people are going to watch movies. Will streaming video or video on demand (VOD) really take off or will people still want the physical experience of going to a theatre with other people?
Ref: Sunday Times (UK), 20 February 2011, ‘We’re outta here! This is no place for grown ups’, by C. Goodwin.
Source integrity: ****
Search words: Hollywood, films, movies, demographics
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Post-digital media

People (usually those working for newspapers) keep telling us that print is dead and that online is where the future lies. But if this is the case why does only 7.4% of UK newspaper revenue currently come from digital sources and why is this only expected to rise to 13.9% in 2017? (data by John Chisholm). The equivalent figures for the United States are 9.3% and 14.6% in 2017. Yes, online is thriving, paywall policies are emerging and the shift is away from print to online, but for the foreseeable future the industry will still make most of its money from ink printed on dead trees.

BTW, if you still think newsprint is anachronistic, consider this. A company called the Really Interesting Group has launched something called Newspaper Club that allows individuals or institutions to print anything from 5 to 5,000 copies their own newspaper. How do they do it? Simple. Orders are batched together and run on newspaper presses around the UK when they are normally down. The result? A cheap product that appeals, in the words of Daniel Heaf from 4ip (Channel 4 TVs fund for public service media), to people that ‘just like physical stuff’. Similar examples of print on demand might include and Blurb in book publishing or 2Halves, a newspaper created by Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur bloggers that’s distributed to fans prior to the North London derby.
Ref: The Observer (UK), 20 March 2011, ‘Paywall or no paywall, print is still what pays’ by P. Preston and The Guardian (UK), 17 March 2011, ‘Newspaper club is a winner for London agency’, by B. Johnson.
Source integrity: *****
Search words: Newspapers, digital media, paper
Trend tags: Digitalisation

The digitalisation of culture

You’ve no doubt heard of Google Street View. How about the Google Art Project? Google is working with 17 of the world’s leading art galleries and museums to digitalise many of the world’s greatest art masterpieces. So what’s not to like? You can wander down the virtual corridors of the National Gallery in London, MoMA in New York or the Hermitage in St Petersburg and gawp at anything that tickles your fancy. There are no queues and you can zoom in on any detail at the click of a mouse. And it’s free. However, the project raises some important questions. First, is viewing art online a decent substitute for looking at art in a physical gallery and will the virtual experience ever be the same – or better – than the real thing? At the moment the answer is no. Looking at an image on a screen, even a very large screen, is no substitute for standing directly in front of the actual object. No doubt the technology will improve over time, but there is still no escaping the fact that the object is more than its image. In real life a painting or work of art inhabits physical space and this somehow connects to us as physical beings, especially when we are looking at something in the presence of other human beings. The fact that the environments in which these objects are usually displayed are themselves beautiful cannot be discounted either. And then there’s the argument that scarcity creates value in the sense that museum and art gallery visitors have often travelled a great distance to see these objects and the effort is itself part of the experience. Viewing digital art is therefore reductive, whereas viewing physical art is expansive. There is the point, articulated by Nicholas Serota from the Tate Gallery (a participating gallery), that digital visitors might connect in ways that are not possible in real galleries, but if this simply means the exchange of email chatter then I don’t think this amounts to a hill of beans. I suppose there’s also the argument that says you can look at a Rembrandt in bed at 3.00am, to which there is almost no answer. In theory such digital exposure should act as an advertisement for the museums and galleries supporting the project. Let’s hope so. If cost and convenience turns out to be more important than emotion they may end up putting themselves out of business – forever.
Ref: The Observer (UK), 6 February 2011, ‘A glorious invitation to a virtual grand tour’ by T. Adams.
Source integrity: *****
Search words: Digitalisation, virtualisation, objects, art, museums, art galleries
Trend tags: Digitalisation, virtualisation

The future of broadcasting

It’s hard to believe, but commercial television is barely 50 years old in Britain. So what could the television landscape look like in another 50 years time? The answer is that nobody knows, although looking at what’s happened recently may give us some clues. The first trend worth noting is the explosion of channels, which means that audiences have fragmented. Not only are viewers watching more channels, they are also watching them on more devices in more locations and at more times of day. For example, more than two-thirds of internet-connected homes in the UK used computers to access BBC’s iPlayer in 2010. Within a decade it’s possible that all TVs will have internet connections built-in (i.e. IPTV) and this could change viewing habits further. Or will it? Old-fashioned ‘linear’ television is supposed to be dead, but it’s proving more resilient than many pundits predicted. In 2010, TV viewing hit an all time high in the UK despite forecasts of decline. Old-fashioned period drama broadcast by terrestrial channels such as the BBC has also achieved audiences that are supposed to be impossible nowadays. Yes, there’s on-demand viewing (Sky+, V+, iPlayer and YouTube), but together these channels only account for about 7% of all viewing in the UK and most of this is people catching up with old material they missed on traditional channels like the BBC and ITV. Similarly, watching video on mobile devices is growing fast, but it’s still small compared to mainstream TV and most of what’s being watched is short bursts of news, sport, music and user-generated content. What about 3D TV? Yes, that’s here, but there are arguments about standards and formats and it still looks like a fad to me. Ultra-HDTV might be coming too, but is this really all it’s cracked up to be? Is the experience really that different and why are we so obsessed with screen size and picture quality over and above content? To sum up, if the future contains an almost infinite number of channels and there are screens everywhere, people will need editors and brands to sift the content. Without these two vital ingredients, people may just switch off entirely.
Ref: Various (OK, I admit it, I've forgotten/lost it)
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Search words: Broadcasting, TV, television
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