Reading-View(s)ing the Über-box: a critical view on a popular prediction

Anders Fagerjord
University of Oslo Norway
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Abstract: In this paper I will address a widespread view of the near-future digital media: that of the integrated Web multi-medium. The digital big-screen über-box being TV, video, newspaper and web computer at the same time, only better. Hyped in the pages of Wired magazine, incorporated in the strategies of Microsoft, Disney and NBC, discussed in books by Gates, Murray and Negroponte, the advent of the all-embracing integrated Web medium seems inevitable.

I will present examples showing that this dream has been a part of science fiction literature and futuristic predictions since TV became widespread in the 1950’s, actualized by the spread of multimedia computers and the World Wide Web in the 1990’s. It is a classic example of technological determinism, and the sociologist Roger Silverstone has shown how this new medium will face severe challenges on way into the homes of ordinary people. This paper demonstrates that the challenges for the writers/directors/producers creating texts for the dream medium will be even greater.

I will not discuss whether this amalgamated medium will actually replace the media we know, or, as happened with film, radio and television, merely establish a new medium alongside the others. Instead, the paper focuses on the features of this new integrated web medium. Any reflection on what this would really look like ends up with a truly ambitious product specification, making it clear that a lot of new ways of constructing messages will have to grow up before this half-century long dream really comes true.

Conventions for effective combination of moving images, paragraphs of text and sound clips into a meaningful, coherent whole will have to be established. The movement and montage of film have very different conventions from text, and the ideal of live transmission that is central to TV is in strong contrast to the archival nature of the Web. These different conventions from different media must be sorted out and weighted against each other, and new conventions must be established for this to work as a coherent whole. This process has only begun, and its core challenge will probably be hypertext’s primary feature: the choice.

Not only will a spec for a truly integrated Web medium call for seamless integration of media in the actual narration of stories or events, it should also give the reader/view(s)er the choice of how linear this narration should be, and to what length or detail it should be taken. Any live broadcast should not only open for the user’s interactions, but also interact with the Web’s near infinite archive of earlier texts. Today’s incunabulae of the Web and other hypertexts have given few suggestions to how these interactions could take place.

The dream of the all-encompassing integrated digital medium is probably one humans have had for centuries: the ideal of an Olympic view on the world. It is a manifestation of the drives to overcome the restrictions of time and space, and ultimately, to overcome mortality, as Adrian Mackenzie points out.

About the Presenter: Anders Fagerjord is a research fellow at the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Oslo. He is currently working on a Ph.D. thesis with the working title "The Convergence of Digital Media Rhetoric." He also has a background in Web design and in radio.