By Dom Serafini
For all its innovative spirit, digital technology has proved to be a devastating killer of various forms of communications and methods of entertainment. And that’s only the beginning. Just imagine all the money and energy spent introducing terrestrial digital TV –– and it’s already been rendered useless, even before its implementation, by another digital development, IPTV.
Recently, much has been said about the discontinuance of Polaroid photo camera production by its manufacturer, but the latest most celebrated victim of digital technology should be the cathode-ray tube (abbreviated as CRT, and also known as the picture tube), which was replaced by the LCD in today’s TV sets. The former was produced in 1927 and commercialized in 1947. Sony discontinued its CRT manufacturing this past March. Similarly, Polaroid, which debuted in 1948 and started to decline in 2001, halted its production in 2008.
Before the disappearance of the CRT, videocassettes, which were born in 1975, practically vanished in 2003 with the increasing popularity of DVDs. But even the “modern” DVD is destined to soon fade out, eclipsed by the more versatile, compact and consumer-friendly flash memory drive, which, in turn, will be eclipsed by the mighty download. In 1998, a combination of CD, DVD and flash memory virtually replaced the floppy disk, which was introduced in 1973.
The biggest shock to the media industry, however, could have been caused by the disappearance of the audiocassette in 1993, which after only 30 years of life, was replaced by the CD. Earlier, the audiocassette replaced the LP, which itself eclipsed the 45-records popular in the 1950s.
However, of all communication gadgets, my biggest emotional anguish was caused by the loss of the typewriter. I tried to keep an electric IBM, but it became too problematic due to its size and weight, and I was forced to dispose of it. I still do, however, keep in impeccable working order my portable Olivetti manual typewriter, which was bought in 1962, when I was just 12. Just think, this beautiful thing that was the typewriter –– which came out in 1895 –– completely disappeared by the early 1990s.
One device that I don’t really miss is the telex machine. Actually, I never liked it. It made too much noise and was too time-consuming. But I must say, it was highly reliable and its service didn’t cost too much. It came into being in 1920 and went away in 1982, replaced by the fax machine. In the beginning, however, this latest device was sort of a nuisance, especially when one had to call the recipients of messages, asking them to turn their damn machines on. Today, the fax machine is being replaced by scanned pages and PDFs sent by e-mail.
And what about film cameras and projectors? The famous 8mm and super-8! Gone with the wind by the late 1990s, replaced by inexpensive video cameras. When it disappeared, the home-film camera and projector was only 58 years old.
Also disappearing are: beepers, much treasured by medical doctors, replaced by cellular phones; the Walkman, killed by various MP3 devices; and, finally, the bulky yellow pages! It has to be noted that, even though it doesn’t make sense any longer, many hospitals in New York City, for example, still provide beepers to their doctors, who have to then run to the nearest telephones to call message centers.
Going back to the Polaroid, it is certain that digital photography will soon eclipse film cameras and that satellite transmission will be replaced by broadband networks. And it’s not only that. Broadcast television will completely migrate to broadband, rendering terrestrial frequencies for that purpose unnecessary (but desirable for Wi-Max).
Strangely enough, though, only analog radio seems to standing up to digital technology, perhaps because, in case of a nuclear explosion, it’s the only technology that will be unaffected.
Another interesting aspect of analog radio is that even those receivers built in the 1930s are not only still able to operate, but are becoming highly desirable.
Besides analog radio, paper-based publications will continue to exist, because there isn’t yet a standardized way to store information for a long time. Even today, digitalized libraries are having problems keeping up with changing storage technology, to the point that much data will be lost due to obsolescence and lack of standardization.
So, where is digital technology going to take us? In my view it will create an environment where there is no longer a need for solid-state transport (like LP records, CDs or flash drives). Also, have you noticed how e-mail has reduced usage of fixed-lines phones? The Internet protocol combined with various digital devices and broadband will make all media consumption and communication smoother, seamless. All functions will be performed by a remote data bank, and the players (computers, IPTV, mobile devices, etc.) will need only to request a particular feature (documents, photos, audio and video files, etc.), including live and on-demand film and TV programs.
In effect, we’ll be moving away from a “push” TV model (typical of cable and satellite TV), to a “pull” audio-visual system where the desired program and/or service will be requested (pulled) one at a time, towards an on-demand-only model without media technologies (DVD, flash drive, fax, etc.).