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By Dr. Philip Baczewski, Director of  Academic Computing and User Services

The End of Media as we Know IT

We live in an age of increasingly diminishing media. Many of us just don't know it yet. Of course, there are many definitions of media, the plural of medium which has even more definitions in its singular form. For the purposes of this discussion, I prefer the following definition of medium from the WordNet database queried via dict.org:

"a means or instrumentality for storing or communicating information."

Paper is the medium of a book. A CD is the medium for music. A DVD is the medium for a movie, etc. Of course, you can argue the exactness of this description, but I think you get the general idea. Information Technologies have dramatically affected the development of media, particularly by enabling the digitization of information.

Media is diminishing both in size and existence. In the early days of sound recording, a classical symphony was delivered via a box of 78 RPM records. Later, that was reduced to a single vinyl LP, with the ability to deliver one short symphony on each side (I know -- you are asking, "what's an LP?" See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Album).  A CD reduced the size of the media to a further extent with even more capacity for musical time. An iPod Nano stores multiple CDs in a package not much bigger than a matchbook (I know -- you are asking, "what's a matchbook?" See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matchbook). In my smart phone is a Mini SD card that is about the size of my thumbnail that holds a good representation of my (legally purchased) music collection.

I propose that the next step will be that media will vanish into the air -- literally. Apple Inc. seems to agree with me. Recently they introduced the MacBook Air which features a sleek and light design as well as no media drive, a move as bold as when they released the iMac without a floppy drive, sending the Mac user world into a horrendous panic. The MacBook Air is "built for the wireless world." It assumes that information, software, and entertainment will be acquired via a wireless Internet connection, so no media drive is needed. It's all in the air.

Google and Microsoft are both scrambling to make information management tools available as Internet-delivered applications. Soon, you won't need Office on your hard drive or even need to keep files there. Google Docs already lets you edit files online with out needing to have editing software installed on your hard drive. Likewise, Adobe will let you edit and store photos online via their "Photoshop Express."*  Google already is quite successful supporting people's e-mail and calendars online. If this trend continues, then a computer will be less of a device for accessing or moving digital information between various media. It will instead be a communication device capable of connecting you to the information you need and letting you generate information for others.

So, it may not be too long before a computer just requires some controlling software and the integration of a good browser. That's an idea that Microsoft got right, if only they'd used it for good instead of for evil. Marshall McLuhan said that "the medium is the message." I'd have to say that in today's world the message is the message, especially when the medium no longer matters.


* For a timely review of Photoshop Express, see Dr. Hinkle-Turner's article Photoshop Express - Free Online 'Photoshop' is a pretty good deal in this issue of Benchmarks Online.

 


Originally published, April 2008 -- Please note that information published in Benchmarks Online is likely to degrade over time, especially links to various Websites. To make sure you have the most current information on a specific topic, it may be best to search the UNT Website - http://www.unt.edu . You can also search Benchmarks Online - http://www.unt.edu/benchmarks/archives/back.htm as well as consult the UNT Helpdesk - http://www.unt.edu/helpdesk/ Questions and comments should be directed to
benchmarks@unt.edu

 

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