Meanderings of Z.

Location: United States

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


I was pontificating on the confluence of media, gaming, digital music, cell phones, PDAs, Blackberries, and text messaging. For some reason the term “Hypermedia” came to mind. Wasn’t sure if it was really a term or not, but it seemed to fit the bill. A quick search on “define:Hypermedia” on Google confirmed that it is a widely used term, and it in fact means pretty much how I was applying it myself. In short it represents all of the above elements that have been coming together over the last 3 years in ways that no one imagined just 5 or 10 years ago.

These technology applications are enabling us to multitask in increasingly new and innovative ways. We are constantly connected to work, friends, relatives, hobbies, the media, and our music. It is possible to talk to anyone through multiple digital channels at any time. If we aren’t using our cell phones for conversation we can use them to chat via Text Messaging or even send email. We can even get video content on our phones with services such as Verizon’s V-Cast.

This explosion in stimulation is causing a social addiction that has never been seen. A new article in Time magazine by Claudia Wallis titled “The Multitasking Generation” talks about the social impacts of this phenomenon. Attention spans are being challenged and the need for social interaction with other humans is exploding. The article discusses the need for college students to use their cell phones between classes, or the need to be chatting with several friends while working on a paper. How can you write a coherent paper when it isn’t your primary focus? It is hard enough writing this post while sitting in a Starbucks.

We have seen similar leaps in enabling multitasking before, but not to this level, and certainly not coupled with what we are already capability of achieving via technology. When windowing-based user interfaces were introduced it was possible to work on several tasks at once. You could monitor your email while working in your Lotus 123 spreadsheet, or write a paper while playing minesweeper. Now we have this capability juxtaposed with messaging, cell phones, and portable music.

However, even with all of these caveats laid out on the table, there are several positive implications of Hypermedia. Advances in internet connectivity and the pervasiveness of broadband access are exposing us to music, art, and movies that we wouldn’t otherwise have access too. Digital artwork (e.g. music, print, and video) from individuals that wouldn’t otherwise have an audience is easily accessible.

Advances in gaming are exposing us to rich media fantasy worlds that aren’t as static as Pong, as two dimensional as asteroids, or even as mundane as our own everyday lives. Faster computers and more sophisticated gaming engines are exposing us to entire worlds that are shaped by our own actions in the gaming environment. These digital role playing games exercising both sides of our brains by challenging us with puzzles at the same time we are exposed to complex visual designs. We become aware of the visually stunning backgrounds, the use of negative space, and the innovation within those worlds. We are also challenging our own belief systems by choosing from right and wrong within the games and dealing with the repercussions of those decisions.

As with everything in life, moderation must be kept in check. Families need to communicate face to face and deal with everyday issues. Social skills are still important to learn and foster. The way someone writes an email, or chats online, isn’t the same as speaking face to face with someone. We may be entering a new world of social need and interaction, but it can’t come at the expense of humanity.


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