The Medium Is The Message #5: HDTV

It’s no coincidence that a better picture renders better stories.

It's a wonder we ever get off the sofa

The future according to HDTV?

Ever since I got my first HDTV – would you believe it’s been more than 10 years? – I’ve been wondering what effect the higher resolution picture would have on the medium itself.  Because, let’s face it, more than a thousand lines of resolution is really a completely different experience from the NTSC standard, the 525-line picture that defined the television picture for its first fifty years.

So if HDTV is effectively a new medium, and the medium is the message, then… what new message is this new medium be delivering?

I think David Carr answered the question in the New York Times over this past weekend:

The vast wasteland of television has been replaced by an excess of excellence that is fundamentally altering my media diet and threatening to consume my waking life in the process. I am not alone. Even as alternatives proliferate and people cut the cord, they are continuing to spend ever more time in front of the TV without a trace of embarrassment.

In case you don’t get the reference, “the vast wasteland” harkens back to a speech that then-FCC commissioner Newton Minnow delivered to the National Association of Broadcasters way back in 1961:

“When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.
But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

That speech pretty much set the tone for how television was regarded for several decades.  It was always “the vast wasteland,” “the boob tube,” or “the idiot box.”  Nobody of any intellectual standing ever admitted to actually watching TeeVee.

In the past several years though, as Carr articulates, the television universe has become much more vast – but much less of a wasteland.  Oh, sure, we’ve still got the Kardashians (who?)  Nancy Grace and Court TV, American Idol, Survivor and all of their “reality” brethren (because nothing says ‘reality’ more than having being followed around by a camera crew…).  The lowest common denominator will always have a place in American culture, just like trailer parks and tent revivals.

But we’ve also got Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Justified, and more recently the just concluded first season of HBO’s anthology True Detective.

These shows and several others have expanded the narrative capacity of the medium – arguably (I would argue…) because the refined visual capacity of the higher resolution screen  has forced writers, producers, actors and directors them to raise their own game.

In other words, television shows are better today because the medium itself is better.

But it’s not just the screen (and the theatrical, surround-sound audio) that is changing the game. It’s the mode of delivery as well.

I’ve had a DVR (TiVo) for longer than I’ve had HDTV, and that device probably changed my viewing habits even more than HDTV did.  Before TiVo, I’d always time-shifted the series I wanted to watch with a VCR, but TiVo changed the whole experience, making it much easier to record, store, and play back entire seasons of multiple shows.  And fast-forward through the commercials…

Now, add to TiVo: Netflix, AppleTV, Hulu, HBO GO and an array of other services that are delivered mostly through the Internet; then add YouTube and Apple Airplay or Google Chromecast that give you the ability to flip just about any ‘content’ from any networked device onto you high-def flat panel display – and it’s a wonder we ever get off the sofa.

 

The “Napster Principle” Writ Large

20140211-134131.jpgMeanwhile, in other news… The Europeans are beginning to take a dim view of US control of the Interwebs…

WSJ: EU Body Seeks to Reduce U.S. Influence Over Internet’s Structure

The European Union’s executive body is raising pressure to reduce U.S. influence on the Internet’s infrastructure, after revelations of widespread U.S. surveillance activities have caused what it calls a “loss of confidence” in the global network’s current makeup.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, will propose the adoption of “concrete and actionable steps” to globalize essential Web functions–like the assignment of so-called top-level domain names–that are still contractually linked to the U.S. government, according to a draft policy paper seen by The Wall Street Journal.

I don’t know that I trust the EU’s Communications Command and Control structures any more than I like the U.S.’s… this is probably an internecine turf war: The EU doesn’t like the US/NSA monitoring our communications only because it presents a challenge to the EU’s ability to do precisely the same thing.

I am reminded (as I am often) of an observation that somebody made back in the heyday of Napster: “The labels don’t like Napster ripping off the artists because it interferes with the labels’ ability to rip off the artists…” Or something to that effect.

I think the same principal probably applies here.

 

Free Photos:
The “Portals of Stone” Desktop Collection

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Prepare to travel through time and space from your computer desktop…

Portals_VFOx6Most of you in the Vast Legion that follow this site (and it’s myriad spokes in the social media universe) have seen some of the images I’ve created from my photos of the medieval ruins of England and Scotland, the series I call “Portals of Stone.”

Now you can display some of these images on the desktop of your computer.

All you have to do is subscribe to my Weekly Digest. (if you’re already a subscriber and want the files, let me know and I’ll send ‘em to you individually).

Continue reading

Labor Saving Devices

Or:  Why Our Modern Lives Are Crazy
(well, mine, anyway)

The Babbage Difference Engine - a mechanical precursor to today's electronic computers

The Babbage Difference Engine – a mechanical precursor to today’s electronic computers

I set aside an hour Monday morning
to address various “desk chores”
that have gone neglected
for the past week or so.

I know now
why I put these things off.
Bear with me here.
And tell me:
Does this sound like anything
that has ever happened to you?

The first thing I needed to do
was submit documentation
to my “Health Savings Account.”
They wanted me to account
for the $800
that I put on the account
for some dental work
I had done a couple of weeks ago. Continue reading

And You Think Photoshop Is Deceptive?

Check this out:

 

I can’t tell from the YouTube page what the software is, but it’s the most impressive portrait (and video?) retouching software I’ve seen yet.

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 2.28.27 PMWait a second… maybe I’m the one being deceived here.

In mean, I can’t even tell for sure if this is software… maybe it’s just a music video for a band called “Boggie” and this is their song “Parfum.”  Maybe the vocalist is singing to us (in a language I don’t recognize) about the evils of photo-retouching.

For once, Google wasn’t much help.

I know… I’ll go check The Onion…

If annybody else who knows the secret… post a comment, please.

- – - – - -

Update 140126: I know the answer now. Popular Photo has disclosed that the video is, indeed, a music video for a Hungarian pop singer named Boggie.  So me – and the friend who sent me the link in the first place, among the the fools.

You would think that if such software actually exists, I of all people would know about it by now.

How You Know When Your Gizmo Has Rewired Your Brain

Another excerpt from the anals of “The Medium Is The Message:

One of the fundamental precepts Marshal McLuhan proposed is the notion that our thought our processes evolve to conform with the architecture of whatever media we’re using.  “Re-wiring the brain” is how McLuhan put it.   I see evidence of that principal whenever I use my iPad.

A friend of mine recently got his first iPad, and said he’s having a blast with it.  I told him to be careful, his attention span is about to be reduced to nil.

Yes, it’s the chair, stupid…

What makes the tablet different from all the digital devices that preceded it is not what it can do, but how we use it.  Sitting in a chair like we would with a book (or propped up on the breakfast table, instead of trying to fold a newspaper so that it will stand up in front of us…).  But this is a “book-like device” has the entire history of human knowledge “built in” to it – and countless other distractions.  The ability to jump from one thing to another – you can’t do that with a book, but you can do it with an iPad, which you sit with and hold more or less like a book.

So the first casualty is your attention span.  You’ll be reading an article about somebody, you wonder what they look like, so you tap a couple of times to open your browser, you go to Google and search images.  One of the images juxtaposes with something else and you follow that link… which leads to something else which leads to something else -  and five minutes later you’re back to article you were reading.  Unless you had the impulse to check your e-mail or look at Facebook while you were at it, your mileage may vary.

We didn’t use to read that way… we used to just sit down and read for a while, and then get up and do something else.  Now “something else” is always at our fingertips.

Despite its capacity for endless distractions, one feature of reading on a tablet  is the ability to look up the definition of any word without leaving whatever you’re reading.  Typically, you just highlight the word, press on it, and an option to “define” appears; select that option and presto, there’s the definition of the word.  Pretty cool huh?

And fairly habit forming.  It’s pretty easy to get comfortable pressing on a word to get its definition.

Of course, most of us will still use actual books from time to time.

But  the first time you find your self starting to push your finger down on a word in an actual book… that’s when you’ll know your gizmo has rewired your brain.

(reposted to Facebook 130112 to test NextScripts)

Lefsetz Nails “The Model,” Pareles Nails “The Cloud”

Hard to imagine, I know, but every now and then I read something that sums up the State Of The Arts far more succinctly than I have ever done with my rambling missives.  Today I wish to share two such somethings with you, my vast and loyal readership.

There are two sides to this “music business” equation (a proxy for all business, really) that are effected by evolving technologies.  There’s the creator/producer side, and then there’s the user/audience side.

Again, the easiest nomenclature for the user/audience side would be “consumer;” Then we could just call  the two sides of the transaction producers and consumers.  But the distinction is important: particularly where “digital” music is concerned, there is no “consumption.” Consumption applies, to, say, grapes: when you eat a grape, that grape is gone.  It has been consumed.  But when you listen to a digital recording, or even purchase a track from a server somewhere, nothing is “consumed.”  The original is still there.

I keep stressing this bit of pedantics because I firmly believe that thought processes are formed by language. Vocabulary determines perspective and maybe even attitude.  That’s why I keep reminding readers that “Internet radio” is an oxymoron, and you can’t paste a “label” on a stream of electrons and digits.  But I digress…

From the user side of the equation, it was encouraging to read this assessment of the burgeoning new market for “cloud” services from Jon Pareles, a senior music critic at the New York Times:

I can’t wait. Ever since music began migrating online in the 1990s I have longed to make my record collection evaporate — simply to have available the one song I need at any moment, without having to store the rest.

That’s the promise of “The Celestial Jukebox” that I have also been anticipating since the mid 90s – “whatever you want to hear, whenever you want to hear it, wherever you are.”  As Pareles points out, we still wait for “the bastards to let us.” Continue reading

iCloud: Yes, You Can Have Your Horseless Carriage…

And pretty new icons, too.

…but you still have to pull it with a horse.

Other than that, there really is a lot to like about all the announcements that Apple made yesterday, and they announced a lot.

First there is the new operating system,  OSX Lion, which brings some of the touch screen features of the iPhone and the iPad to the desktop.  Then there is iOS 5, the new operating system for all the iGizmos, which at the very least will finally allow you to sync them altogether without a cord.

And then there was the Big New Thing: iCloud, the remote storage service that unifies everything into a whole new, self-organizing, digital ecosystem.

It will take even the most dedicated observers some time to assess all the features in all this new software – much of which will not actually be released until next fall.   So there is plenty of time to sort it all out and start saving sheckels for our nifty new laptops, phones, and tablets.

But in one critical aspect, the new iCloud service is woefully lacking – and missing a grand opportunity to deliver music distribution to its inevitable destination. Continue reading