Friday 30 March 2007

Turning Up the Volume

I wanted to turn up the volume, so I did. Nothing happened. I worked for the day in relative silence, but something struck me. Volume, no longer means what it used to. It's louder and bigger than ever before. I'll explain.

First, back to the beginning. I turned up the volume, and nothing happened.

Maybe the volume button the computer wasn’t working. I went into the sound
properties on the control panel, and clicked on the tab. There was a Volume
Control, Wav, SW synch and CD player. I understood the first and the last and
thought the second one was a .wav file, short for wave. Simple. I turned them
all up. I could have clicked ‘mute all’, or muted them all
individually, if I’d wanted no sound, which was what I had… so I
didn’t want that, so I didn’t do it.

Still no sound.

I went to the speakers attached to the laptop, and turned the knob on those to
full. I checked connections, and thought… I’ll reboot,
that’ll fix it. So I did. It didn’t.

Still no music!

And do you know what I thought? I thought… this is nuts. There are so
many layers and levels between me and the music that even turning up the volume
can be a bloody trial. I can do that on old machines in a jiffy and I
didn’t even like the music that much. I’d spent 10 minutes
foostering around for no sound, and all because of layers and layers of
software, hardware and options. Would I give up? Yes I would. For the
moment. Music isn’t that important. Is it? Ironically, I thought
having some background music would make me more productive? I’d have to
work pretty hard to catch up on the time I’d lost already.

Silence… kind of. I worked away for most of the day, to the irritating
clatter of my own keyboard, busses, ambulances and fire brigades, other
peoples’ radios and the odd screech from the kids scrapping at the bus
stop. I worked away to the sound of Dublin instead of music to give me

But there was volume after all. Lots of it. Just not a lot of music, or sound.

I sent an email to 3,000 people for research purposes, spoke to several more
through boards and chat, work related emails flying back and forth, another
mail shot, the mobile phone beeped with texts, and rang with calls while the
work phone bleeped every few minutes and the doorbell rang.

The ads we post on websites and search engines must have been seen by 20,000
people to generate the 2000 or so clicks we’d tracked so far and the
online videos… hmmm. 600 views? You Tube viral views? Thousands. By
5.30pm we’d generated maybe 25,000 communications, many through the
little laptop in front of me, in only 6 hours. Thats a lot of volume.

And the moral, (if there is one)? In this new digi-world, sometimes it can be easier to
ask 25,000 strangers to pay attention and click, or let them tell you all about themselves, than it is to sit back, on your own, and listen to a good tune. :-)

Thursday 22 March 2007

The Death of the ‘Digital’ in Digital Communication

The Death of the ‘Digital’ in Digital Communication

The ‘digital’ bit, is disappearing from new digitally mediated
communication. Yes, digital communication is everywhere, will
pervade everything, but it isn’t everything. It isn’t anything in
fact. People and real life are what’s important and they are the
Internet. Its content, its chat, its life, its marketplace, its
publisher… they are just, ‘it’! Digital communication is only that…
communication, between people, that is digital in mode. I know I
sound like I’m saying really obvious stuff, but I think it needs to
be said, and I’ll tell you why I think it does.

Too often I’m asked onto radio shows to talk about something ‘on the
net’, or something that people are doing ‘online’. I perhaps have
failed to communicate clearly though that I believe there is no real
‘online’. There used to be terms like ‘virtual life’ or VL, and then
conversely ‘real life’ or RL, and these terms had a real value for
their times, and for the people who used them, (often people who were
into role playing games, or MMORPGs). The truth about many of those
people is that they were to great extent, socially inadequate
Internet addicts. Geeks, programmers and propeller heads, (and the
millionaires of today). No harm in that. The truth about those
times was that the Internet population was dominated by those people.
None of this is true today. People who use the Internet today are
normal everyday Joes and Marys and they don’t know the first thing
about how the thing actually works. Why should they. The technology
has become as everyday as the phone, or the washing machine. Its
there, you use it. If it breaks you don’t blame yourself but just
get someone to fix it. If you don’t know how to use something, you
find out.

However, this dichotomy, online vs offline (vl vs rl) still persists
in the Irish mainstream media. It may be that the journalists feel
they are speaking at what they think is the level of intelligence of
the ‘man on the street’. But the truth is, the journalists, with
notable exceptions, know less than the man on the street. And then
they say they feel the need, ‘not to get too technical’, and dumb
things down. So, the interview is reduced to stretched analogies
with little actual information and learning and I sound like I’m
trying to persuade the interviewer of the importance of the Internet,
to sell it, while I’m just trying to get an everyday context on the
everday life of everyday people for someone who is reading the next
question on the card

Most journalists and interviewers are Internet illiterates. They’re
too busy or too old to have grown up with the medium, or, they are
relying on their researchers. Relying on researchers just won’t
work, as with other ‘topics’ as the Internet isn’t a topic, but a
lived experience. It requires ‘experiental knowledge’. It’s like
talking to someone who says they know about France because they have
pictures of the Eiffel Tower and their researcher has told them how
many people live in Paris and that French eat cheese and carry onions
on their bicycles. Conversations like this are a waste of time, most
of the time, unless I can hit on a particular analogy that brings the
‘topic’ alive.

The truth about people, then, rather than ‘digital communication’ is
that they are exactly the same as they are in RL. Many people will
do exactly what the can get away with, what gets them the most
notice, the most money, or the most sexual gratification. They are
shallow and greedy who live a ‘get and survive’ existence and take
advantage of the privacy, anonymity, or more appropriately, the
secrecy that the Internet affords. Along with this semi-deviant
class in society, are those who are perhaps more privileged, (though
not necessarily) who try to be ‘civilised’. These may be more mature
or civic minded people. They share information, have civilized
discussions, and grow such wonderful entities as the Wikipedia. Then
there are those with a particular transaction to make. They are the
click-and-go doers. They bank, buy tickets, photos, software,
hardware, look for jobs, cars.. the lot. They click, they transact
and they are gone. They don’t have the time, or the inclination to
socialize or communicate. These are the faceless millions of the
net, who are key to its economics, but not to its society.

Then there are the kids, many of whom are shameless nutters. Oozing
hormones and emotionally un-disciplined. Often they are totally out
of control and uncontrollable. Bullying, flirting, exaggerating and
boasting… or being good. So, nothing new there except for one
important point. The advantage they have over the rest of us is they
take the digital out of digital communication. They just call it
chat. ‘I was talking to…’ could mean email, blog, instant messenger
(or IM), sms, mms, telephone, or just actually… talking to,
physically and face to face. (When they say ‘met’ it can mean
something totally different). The mode of communication, whether
digital, analogue or physical, is irrelevant.

In a short amount of time, perhaps a few years, there will be no
digital, because everything will be digital. The word will simply be
taken for granted, it will have lost its value, like the word
‘electric’. Digital TV, Radio, phone, Internet, alarms, car GPSs and
diagnostic systems, even the fridge, the kid locators, and so much
more… all digital. You will be able to communication through each
and every gadget you can imagine, and analogue communication will be
turned off. This is happening England at the moment. Digital
switchover they call it. The BBC are turning off the analogue TV and
radio signals and the country will require DAB radios and set top
boxes for TV, through Freeview, or satellite dishes for Sky. The
urban landscape will change as all the TV aerials on all the roofs of
all the towns will simply disappear. Defunct, literally, and
metaphorically. The pictures that accompany the theme tune to the
soap Coronation Street will need to be remade with satellite dishes
on the roofs, or nothing at all, as people use their Freeview instead.

How will this change people? Society? Not at all. People will be
exactly the same as they were twenty years ago. They’ll just go
beep more often.