THE FUTURE OF TELEVISION by Marco Casado
FROM A SOCIAL AND HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE, AND ACCORDING TO ITS DEVELOPMENT, WHICH COULD BE THE POSSIBLE CHANGES OF TELEVISION AGAINST THE USES AND EVOLUTION OF COMPUTERS AND THE INTERNET?
Fantasies help us undermine what ‘consciousness’ was at a particular age, what thoughts were possible, and what thoughts could not be entertained yet
or anymore - CAROLYN MARVIN
Adapting to a dominated position implies a form of acceptance of domination - PIERREBORDIEU
First of all it is important to consider that electronic media are tools for transmitting information (data) and that these tools are part of a major process: communication. As such, we have to bear in mind that the process of communication I am referring to does not necessarily involve the active participation of the receiver. In a mass society, the active role is fundamentally played by the owners of the media, that are the suppliers of a multiplicity of forms of symbolic content which fulfill the social values that feed the dynamics of the capitalist system. This model over the last century has been characterized by taking a one-way communication structure and for aiming to a vast and homogenized auditorium, whose principal role is the consumption of goods and information. At the same we have to regard the fact that the evolution of technology responds to the necessities of society to improve the conditions of living (not necessarily of all individuals) Science and the institutions that foster its development play an important role in the production practices that are controlled by a defined segment of society undergoing a continual struggle of ownership and domination.
Over the last century, Electronic media took a predominant position within society. Due to the complexity generated by its introduction to most social processes, in order to understand its impact on human behavior, it would be necessary to summarize a vast amount of information and to view it from different schools of thought, social and political positions and historical perspectives. That is a task that I can not accomplish in this brief research work. On the other hand, it is important to acknowledge that the specialization within the sciences sets rigid parameters of interpretation of human phenomena. And if we are taking a position in the social sciences to analyze it, we are subsequently denying other possibilities of interpretation whose authenticity or objectivity would rely on rather different methodologies or procedures of explanation; for example, the case of the natural sciences. Putting aside some hybrids that try to combine elements of both fields or even to share with views that have been segregated historically as 'beliefs'; whilst I was searching for information about the development of technology I found some interesting theories that address this situation. For instance, The scholar’s David Noble's thesis is based abo the connection of religion and technology. He claims the human existential need of transcendence goes beyond the so-called rational world. And that technology has become a myth which the western world has based in the Christian project of redemption. And on the other side the work of Carolyn Marvin approaches the uses of technologies from a perspective that stresses the importance of the discovery and uses of electricity, and the way the inventions resulted in the early experiments which affected the organization of social entities already existent and lead to the creation of technologies like the telegraph and the telephone. Considers the confrontation of groups and habits and the effect of these on the atavistic behavior and class values. She argues that “the early history of electronic media is less the evolution of technical efficiencies in communication than a series of arenas for negotiating issues crucial to the conduct of social life” (MARVIN, 1988:4)
Although these arguments are interesting and revealing of other aspects of the electronic media, they require a different kind of approach and a wider research. This interpretation and research work is just a very small part of the western social tradition which is rooted in old historical processes that require deeper and much more dedicated analysis to cover it and to predict the future of the electronic media.
Although these arguments are interesting and revealing of other aspects of the electronic media, they require a different kind of approach and a wider research. This interpretation and research work is just a very small part of the western social tradition which is rooted in old historical processes that require deeper and much more dedicated analysis to cover it and to predict the future of the electronic media. My purpose is to concentrate essentially on Television as a representative technology of the state of convergence and change, and from then on, firstly my intention is to focus on some of the social and historical events that fostered its development with the purpose to establish as a parameter some of its features as a communication technology within a historical context. In second place I will try to bring up some of the social economic and political factors that influence the existence and the uses of television in a technological convergence context. And as a conclusion, I will reflect briefly on some aspects of its possible evolution against the development of the Internet and try to summarize some of its peculiarities for its immediate future.
FIRST PART - TELEVISION - The system
Television has to be considered as a technology that has taken different cultural forms and whose roll in society has been predominant in institutional communication relationships. Be they economic, political, social, etc; television has influenced or modified their structure. For many, this medium is the main cause of partial and significant changes in society since the expansion and growth of broadcasting. Some consider that its effects reflect the actual state and ideological condition of various segments of society. Although, Raymond Williams points out, that we have to be careful because the notion of effect we refer to may not respond to the reality we are trying to interpret. (WILLIAMS, 1974). Television he mentions may be the cause or the result of other causes. In a practical and historical way the technological transition from one stage to the other, for instance from a system of production like Fordism; and the political implications that foster the development of such system, are bound to have different degrees of influence on the members of the community, and over the processes of creation and invention derived by the needs of such community. For example; the needs of the leading groups: in this particular case the communication industries. As Schawrts mentions; “The financial and scientific interest of these industries dictate a system which supports more advanced products and therefore more commercially desirable versions of their existing technology” (SCHWARTZ, 1973:80). Nevertheless, television technology was the result of intricate and complex social relationships fundamentally a by-product of organization methods shaped by individual and collective efforts and social needs.
The development of mass communication was the direct result of the change and evolution of commercial systems inherent to the expansion of society. Control and contact were the main motivations. (WILLIAMS, 1974). Naturally, the centralization of the political power was interested in the development of such technologies because these would fulfill that essential need of control and institutional organization.
The technical evolution of modern society and the psychological changes in social consciousness along with cultural and social values were fundamentally the results of the first and second world wars. The impact of these events encouraged a new perception of reality, underlined the parameters of the capitalist system and especially stressed the new needs of the emerging society; based on mobility and self-sufficient ness (ironically based on the dependency to electronic and mechanical apparatuses). On the other hand, economic factors of production (the projects of each corporation) had direct influence in the ways technology would be produced and applied. In a general way, the processes of research and development accelerated the growth and evolution of electronic technologies. (HAYS, 1972) The production for the masses became an imperative in order to satisfy the growing society, eager to make use of all new kind of devices that would simplify life, following the new domestic philosophy spread by the “old” media.
During the early stages of broadcasting, this one was considered very basic and primitive. “ When the question of content was raised, it was resolved, in the main, parasitically…It is not that the supply of broadcasting facilities preceded the demand; it is that the means of communication preceded their content.” (WILLIAMS, 1974: 25). Broadcasting needed the impulse and intention of manufacturers of the reception devices. At the same time, there was “a contradiction of centralized transmission and privatized reception” (WILLIAMS, 1974) and other issues related to licensing, sponsorship, advertisement, and control. The development of television as a mass communication medium was intimately connected with the interest of the leading political groups and in consequence determined by the social project supported by the leaders of such groups. Technology emerged as a private affair and the technical structure was initially part of a capitalist mechanism (BURNS, 1977). The need of state control and ownership brought along some contradictions and underlined the contrast between public service and commercial purposes. Public service was the reflection of a process of modernization for some state projects, and during the 60s broadcasting became a major issue for the interest of the nations. Television had already developed a definite character, according to Raymond Williams “it had to be seen at several levels: as the making of programs for profit in a known market; as a channel for advertising; and as a cultural an political form directly dependent on the norms of a capitalist society, selling both consumer goods and a way of life” (WILLIAMS, 1974: 41)
It is important to acknowledge that from a global perspective, the postwar development of companies of large scale, and the power of the market had already generated a minority class that owned the mediums. What it represented was the formation of groups, definite entities with an ideology that backed up its intentions and procedures of survival and reproduction. Simultaneously the different projects of all nations played an important role because the historical nature of its development influenced the adaptation of technologies to suit the needs of the institutions. In all leading developed countries from the very beginning television as a communication, the institution became a key issue in its policies and the main propaganda tool. But especially during the stage of the cold war the ideological struggle of the socialism and capitalism, television shacked the interest of the governments, and stimulated a stage of regulation and reflection over the ownership of the means of communication, but fundamentally over the production of messages.
During the 70s in the industrial areas, the effects of the power of monopolies over the market were reflected into the ways of organization of communities and individuals. Some viewed in these, signs of the ideological indoctrination and manipulation exercised by television. For example, Atkinson claimed that the capitalist system celebrates in TV ads a fantasy world to which is necessary to aspire in order to belong. Portrays such things as a nuclear family, male female separation of roles, consumption, and acquisition as a social duty, specialization and competition as moral imperatives. And all of these promote the segmentation of activities shown as desirable. Work, Home, Leisure are separate areas, and human relationships are reduced to performances (ATKINSON, 1977)
The globalization model of the traditional industries was imitated effectively by the new growing information industry. The control of the media by large corporations during the 70s lead to the evolution and development of monopolies. “For technical and economic reasons it was impossible for most individual citizens to own radio or television stations” (BARBROOK, 1995 :134). Which from a social perspective was against all (already minimized) possibility of freedom of speech and public participation, but overall stressed the contradictions of the democratic ruling of the capitalist system. This was a stage of divergence between the promise of individual freedom and the hegemony exercised by corporations. (BARBROOK, 1995). The contradiction was a natural result of the evolution of the information society based on the ownership of the means of production backed up by the relationship between government and media owners. Television as a technological invention was the desired result of research and invention fostered by different institutions public and private. But the historical transition in which the final and usable product was functioning determined its predominant social use: Commercial.
SECOND PART - A stage of change?
The contemporary organization of society relies on economic principles that are secured by major leading forces engineered by the state. The media are presented as organisms or institutions that offer a variety of products and services to the community, that in coalition with the state produce and reproduce the system. (O'SHAUGHNESSY, 1990) The interaction of the auditorium with media over the years has generated a definite structure. But the new technological developments of computers, cable and telephony are bringing changes that are reshaping the traditional modes, "these changes are not random and inevitable, but are part of the ownership and control of major sections of the national and international economy" (HUGES, 1990:166).
At the same time, It is important to acknowledge that the globalization process is overtaking the political discourse and social planning is being developed considering these new structures of communication (MIRABITO, 1990). Technical communication procedures via satellite, the implementation of a much more effective cable systems, the merging of the world wide web and the convergence of old media with new technologies, have allowed the development of a new logic organization that has not accomplished its final configuration. All these transformations within society mechanics emphasize the necessity of reflecting on what will be their impact over the future years and what will be the direct and indirect consequences of these changes for the different communities, especially to those that are an active part of the process of consumption. The idea of convergence and the combination of electronic media with the new capabilities of communication appear to be generally a futuristic vision of the corporate interest whose main aim is to provide users with the advantages of information and to spread the vision of the magic of technology, spectacle, and entertainment. (JACOBSON, 1996)
It would be ambitious and vain to attempt to answer all the questions that arise from the clash of media and the new computer systems of information intercourse. Because we are passing through a stage of uncertainty and speculation influenced by the agreements in the economic and corporate world. Although it is important to keep in mind that questions that relate to the effects these media have over isolated individuals or communities, underline the state of organized change that society is undergoing in different aspects of its structure directly linked to a political agenda. From a socialist perspective constrained within the parameters of the traditional institutions; some of the most important issues raised by these late technical developments and the processes of change generated are those related to the possibilities of social participation and the generation of a different way communication structure. In addition, one of the core questions in this trend would be How beneficial are these innovations to a mechanic of social participation that has not changed its exploitation structure? According to Jaques Ellul quoted by Dizard, "The introduction of any technological change exacts a price. Each innovation adds something on one hand and subtracts something else on the other. In any event, such innovations have unforeseeable effects" (DIZARD, 1994: 170). For instance, Thomas Baldwin mentions that there is the risk that the growth and expansion of communication networks may just benefit technologically developed areas. (BALDWIN, 1996) Which would spawn new subcultures, create gaps between communities and would generate a transformation of cultural values, leaving aside those sectors of the society that lack of access to the “benefits” of technology? Nevertheless, we could be certain that that has already happened during the evolution of the traditional media, particularly in third world countries.
What seems to be the corner stone in the beginning of the new century is that a cable-wave integration of individuals with specific shared systems of values is surpassing geographical limits. And that the capabilities of ideology distribution are of major scale. I suppose that not only we have to ask questions about indoctrination and nationalism and its limits, but about technological discrimination. (Are not they quite similar? Or at least rooted in a common source?) From a biological position perhaps we could ask if the laws of survival are, or not being taken to the extremes by the distribution of technology and information above the economic distribution. For instance, Jacobson mentions that contrary to what the telecommunications predict; historically the changes that can occur with the introduction of new ways of communication will be evolutionary instead of revolutionary. Mainly for the traditional resistance to change by some sectors, and because of the iniquities and the lack of resources from others. (Jacobson, 1996) The common access to the media technology is and will remain reserved just to those that can cope with the change. To those that have the chance to learn the dynamics of the technology and the languages, codes, methods, and procedures of communication. But fundamentally to those that can afford to pay for the hardware, software and the education required to use it.
As a result of the massive use of communication technologies especially of those related to the information distribution networks, according to some scholars, there has been already an evolution from a mass society to a segmented society, which is diversified and specialized. Manuel Castells mentions that because of the diversity of media and the possibility of targeting the audience, now the message is the media, which means that the characteristics of the message will shape the characteristics of the medium, a classical example is the television channel MTV. (CASTELLS, 2000). Thomas Baldwin claims that ‘the networks make available the products of a diversity of information suppliers, facilitate interaction with these materials, and offer live and stored forms of communication services so that individuals can create their own communication environment’ -(BALDWIN, ET AL 1996: 15). In this fashion, it is important to note that the proliferation of authoring tools combined with the communication platforms displayed by the web is allowing users to create 'end user' products, to construct interaction spaces and virtual communities. But fundamentally allows them to participate as individuals or members of active communities that have the opportunity beyond selecting and interpreting, in some circumstances, to modify the contents and generate a new form of content. One of the essential facts that this process of converging technology stresses is the possibility of creating new alternatives for the uses of such.
According to Schulze, "from an evolutionary perspective of the history of information, technology revolution provides just the type of quantum leap in the improvement of man's capacity for learning and adaptation that he needs for his survival" (SCHULZE, 1996:37). From this perspective we have to consider technology as a tool that can trigger our learning skills to improve the social conditions of everyday life, and to reformulate the way technology is used, but what is much more important according to these visions is to think about the ways technology can be used effectively for practical purposes that surpass the political discourse. A practice that can represent or can help to the participation of the individual within the public or private environments in all fields. Allowing us to question to what extent these alternative or new practices of communication will continue as a form of legitimization of the very system, or will become a revolutionary possibility of social transformation.
All the technological developments and the advertisement world processes encouraged by industry have had a powerful impact in all social aspects of human relationships. The integration of society to the uses of graphical and audiovisual interfaces in a computer mediated process has reached those human activities that would appear insignificant and has touched the core of human needs of expression and creative out put. It does not come as a surprise that the new generation of young users of technology has developed an extraordinary familiarity with electronic interfaces and virtual platforms; principally due to the use of computers as a consequence of the long legacy of television and its variables: video games, video recorders, video cameras, etc. The main point of this transition basically is reduced to the replacement of those technologies that extend the image-making potential from analog representations to digital production. (DOVEY, 1996). But at same time we have to note that on one side we have this technological structure and on the other a structure for the production of content that underlines “the role of the media as they go about their task of collecting, constructing and disseminating information” (LORIMER, 1994:220) and principally legitimating and justifying the progress, expansion and capitalization of international corporations. Rather than being pessimistic, I believe that from a realistic point of view all the improvements and possible revolutionary changes seem doomed to fail or to fall within the system. “Corporate ideology of the information age pervades our lives” (JACOBSON, 1996:152).
Many issues that go beyond the merely practical and functional objectives are inevitably raised when we try to understand the uses allowed by the convergence of technologies. For instance, we have to acknowledge firstly, that any possible use of technologies is constrained within the limits of the social institutions that secure the State, and within the social and cultural values of the society these belong to and to the environment this move in, and we have to recognize its position in a historical tradition that is shaped by the purposes they were created for.
Although some scholars believe that the"Postmodern society is radically de-centered and thoroughly disseminated" and that "As a result of this dispersion, the machine of socio-cultural reproduction is no longer controlled by centralized agencies" therefore "Center and hierarchy give way to periphery and horizontality, creating a lateral expanse that extends endlessly in undefined directions" (TAYLOR, 1994:15). Others believe that from a technological perspective the scenario could lead to the development of more centralized controls of media and other information resources (DIZARD, 1994). What we can be certain about is that we are entering a stage of adaptation in which the old procedures of production, administration, distribution of information are being updated and adjusted to the new needs and the new uses created by industry. And that the “new” structure will remain partially undefined for several years. Moreover, market forces and legal regulations will be important issues of discussion along with freedom of expression and ethical and moral implications of the new possibilities of communication.
THIRD PART - Are television and computers merging?
“Thus an explosive may be developed at the command or by the investment of a ruling class, or by the investment or for the profit of an industrial enterprise, yet come to be used by a revolutionary group against that ruling class…”
For a long time, the future has been envisaged by many as an arcade of practical and technical solutions for the human kind. In the actuality, the development of digital technologies has opened the possibility to believe in the fusion of traditional mediums of communication with computers and the improvement of its characteristics and performance features by means of its integration to broadband networks connected to a wider network. In fact, it is considered that the main virtue of digital technology is to create an interface between different technological fields.
The expansion of the World Wide Web and the creation of a virtual communication context named cyberspace, are the direct consequence of the development of technologies of communication initially fostered by the state and now capitalized by multinational corporations. This stage of transition undertaken by supporting corporations of the technological convergence perspective raises multiple questions of different nature that come from various analytical positions, mainly from scholars, intellectuals and critics of the technological determination. But what is clear is the divergence of two trends of interpretation that somehow make appear the issue quite reduced, but help to open the debate from a real assessment. Whilst some see the advent of great revolutionary opportunities of communication and the revival of alternative ideas of communication and public participation, others boldly state that this “is a myth driven by relentlessly optimistic media coverage” (DOVEY, 1996: xii) and that “we should make no mistake that this is indeed what is emerging. The realm of the digital offers the media/finance/military power bloc an opportunity to reorganize and consolidate power” (DOVEY, 1996: xii). And that electronic communication systems have already passed through significant major changes, and “the term ‘revolution’ is quite wrong to apply to the current situation” (WINSTON, 1998).
Despite that the distribution and creation of digital information and the convergence of transmission techniques are taking a prominent position in the market, traditional media will undergo a deep period of adaptation change that secures its power as mass media in the immediate forth coming years. Some researchers believe that the condition television has achieved during its history is perfectly defined and its modes of consumption are tightly rooted to cultural parameters; adding that “although traditional broadcast television faces a significant challenge, it may yet be able to merge or “converge” with computer controlled media without entirely losing its identity”(DAVID, 2000 : 185) According to some "The transition has been slow in coming, early ventures in the field having been bedeviled by inadequate technology and consumer resistance, both of which are now being overcome" (DIZARD, 1994: 172) For the present time we could definitely state that such resistance to the change has been effectively eliminated by the first mass generations of computer-literate users that adapted to the fast and frantic evolution that television, cable, and telephony passed through during the last decade, but there are still millions whose ignorance go beyond the uses of oral language. Some scholars believe that only the people that can afford digital technology will be able to participate socially and that the market will focus on targeting individuals in relation to its economic capacity and access to information networks. (YAROSS, 1996).
The dynamic of the market
One question that stands out of the convergence of television and Internet is which apparatus will fulfill the needs of the system and the needs of the market (the corporate interests) simultaneously: The television or the computer? Will television displace the computer or the other way round? Will we see the emergence of a hybrid that compresses both technologies? Is predictable that in the transition the popularity of internet set- top boxes for the television will increase considering that television is widely spread all over the world and in all social sectors. As Collins claims these systems are fundamentally based on the production of audio-visual messages and the change of transmission characteristics of such messages signifies the need for the manufacture of devices that would allow the proper decoding. (COLLINS, 1996) It is easy to understand that this is just part of the logic of the market and that the production of any kind of device will trigger the dynamics of consumption inherent to its use. These transitions are expected to be based on trial and error testing in the market place, whilst organization, packaging, and distribution of information and entertainment products adapt to the new economic and political patterns. (DIZARD, 1994). In between the merging of television and the computer, there are aspects associated with the benefits or drawbacks of each technology and the essence of each. Television is been perceived as an alienating device that promotes passivity. whose success is based on the simplicity of its access. because it requires no specific training ..and gives the sensation of unmediated contact with reality. (WILLIAMS 1974). Whilst on the other side computers are advertised on claims that enrich family life, enhance communications and strength friendship based on the “interactive” discourse, but over all on the idea that computers are learning tools (SEITER, 1999) whose only shortcomings at the moment are still limited to the capacities of connection access and the availability of software. For the corporate machine, such problems will be solved once the technology of broadband is set up in large scale. The dreams of an interactive television system relay in these technologies, and is expected to evolve in the next coming years. Although we are witnessing the massive phenomena that some refer to as “reality TV” that might be the model for the development of large popularity programs based in the participation of the audience controlling the evolution of events in the programs. (Big Brother, Survival, etc)
From global scale, companies like Microsoft are already establishing links and partnerships with television network companies to extend its power to the media. As the majority of homes have television these industries are investing in the production of hardware that would convert the television in an Internet browser. In fact, television is being used as a universally accepted domestic technology for the development of future technologies that will be related to online connections with the flexibility to share data with other electronic devices. (SEITER, 1999). At the moment is very common to see that in television commercials and programs refer the viewer to link up by means of the net. In many cases, these dynamics of communication are used to gain feedback and to obtain audience information. Gene Jankowski mentions that there are two definite forms of television uses and consumption based on 1 the needs to belong and 2 the need to be an individual. The Aggregation dynamic that appeals masses of audiences and the Disaggregation dynamic that is the result of the new technologies and aims for small audiences that share common interests. Some companies have recognized the importance of these changes and have started acting, in consequence, creating networks whose programming has already been acknowledged as ‘narrowcasting’. (JANKOWSKI, 1994). This situation takes us to the fact that targeting is becoming an important issue and as Seiter mentions, within the research groups there is a growing anxiety to measure and control web users and to predict the development of some technologies to convince sponsors to invest. (SEITER, 1999).
The evolution and the future of television in its early stages were initially thought as to the improvement of the quality of reception and capability, and aesthetically to the improvement of the quality of performance. From the late 70s, High definition TV was thought as a mere possibility of development, which is nowadays already a fact, although it is believed to be just a transitory experiment that will not have any scope due to the price and because it will become obsolete once the digital system is introduced for the massive consumer.
The introduction to television of digital technology it is being projected to allow the viewer to have wider control over the programs. For instance, it is said that the user will be able to decide the characteristics of the programs, the subject, the time and the features of it. Television will be some sort of programmable filter that could be adjusted to each person necessities and preferences, the future of this media will be based on programming relying on the ability of the user to choose from a wide variety of information. For example in the United States, some companies are busy creating television systems that would carry up to 500 channels. Some critics envision this task as a universal ‘wasteland’ “in which the advertising programming flourishes, prohibitive rate structures make it difficult for non-profit groups and small independent producers to gain system access and consumers pay higher fees to obtain programming”(JACOBSON, 1996:147). Whilst these companies are claiming that the variety of programming strengths the democratic apparatus and that the democratic benefits of network diversity will bring surpasses the commercial aspect of television, it is useful to remember that “ in the general rhetoric of the defence of capitalism, commercial broad casting does not call itself commercial, let alone capitalist” (WILLIAMS, 1974:37).
Some belief and others celebrate that the merging of technologies will strengthen democratic processes and social participation. But as it has been proved by historical reality, the evolution of society towards “advanced” stages and political models like the neoliberal have rendered the audience passive consumers whose influence is reduced to its capability to choose between media corporations (BARBROOK, 1995). Nevertheless “the excitements offered by all new media forms represent the utopian aspirations of the liberal oppositional movements of the west.” (DOVEY, 1996), which have dominated the technocratic tradition of communication expansion of late 20th and early 21th century.
One of the representative examples of the use of related television technologies for democratic uses and public participation was embodied in the video culture that emerged during the 70s. It appeared as an alternative to the models set by television passive viewing. Its creators wanted to subvert and challenge the commercial discourse of television seeking to articulate an individual and communal identity. Within few glorious utopic years, these ideas diminished slowly. The camcorder culture faded as an authentic utopian model of technological revolution against the overwhelming development of television world production and the philosophical democracy of spectacle. Nowadays the idea of consumers-producers seems appealing in a context where the creation-communication tools are widely available. Nevertheless, this context appears to have in equal or better proportion mechanism of control and surveillance... If we can be sure about something is that in a period of transition any representation that can have political significance will be articulated and institutionalized. (DOVEY, 1996)
Hypermedia Studies. Module: History of Convergence. Module Leader: Dr. Richard Barbrook, University of Westminster. Marco Casado. Jun 2001
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