Culture is future » Innovation and digital


DEBATES 2011 - Culture & Innovation in Digital Age, by Amit Khanna

Culture  :  a gestalt of beliefs, knowledge, stories, myths, traditions, art

Society  :  a progeny of culture; transient

Media   :  Means of communication

Communication has since the dawn of civilization been a catalyst of human development. The media for communicating has changed. From simple conversation to folk arts thousands of years ago to anytime anywhere voice, video and data today billions of us are constantly trying to reach out to one another. To propagate an idea, a dream, an ideology, an experience or just goods and services, to bond or simply to kill boredom.  Media is all pervasive (a weapon of Mass Distraction is how an American actor described the missile-by-missile telecast of the war in Iraq). Today an apt description of a new global phenomenon, the colonization of the mind.  The post-industrial world has transited into under-arching knowledge economy, and now finally it is all about occupying mindspace. Geographical boundaries, cultural frontiers, political alignments are all being redefined in telescoped moments of unfolding history. 

The pace of social, economic and political change is nerve shattering. Technology obsolescence obscures intellectual stagflation. Symbols of individuality, kinsmanship, faith, nationhood; the very semiotics of human existence have mutated into a transgenic cornucopia. A barrage of satellite images is the mushroom cloud of our times where real life bullets take prime time lives. Is it a metaphor of headline news that despots have doubles and heads of state are etherized in drawing room conversations? When news becomes entertainment and entertainment is news it is time to pause and smirk at Macluhan’s prophecy.  Now the medium is truly well done but the message is still rare.  Every action has a replay and for every rewind, there is a fast-forward. The remote is there not to detonate bombs but to zap you out of consciousness. In cyberspace what is online is just virtual reality and perceived reality is more lethal.

There is always an alternative view from a positional objectivity standpoint. The right is the obverse of wrong if you communicate well enough. Who tells the truth is not as important as who tells a compelling tale.  From movies to mayhem, you need an audience, a customer who will pay by the minute.  In unwired handsets or cable passed homes, digital downloads take up too much memory and time.  Persuasive or subliminal the manner of manipulating minds is the new art form;  Rhetoric the new lingua franca, Broadsheets or tabloids, bits or bytes, fact or fiction, reality or games and movies ultimately it comes down to ones and zeros. All Digitally happening in a time-warped space.  The Fast–Moving-Consumer pays for satiation. Go grab her.

Rookie reporters to electronic eavesdroppers, applause junkies to page three parvenus all   are scavengers of the attention deficit age. Hidden cameras and mike strutting humanoids are in perpetual motion to capture the fleeting moment. Under purple haze and neon signs at comatose, crossroads vying for eyeballs. The Soccer World Cup will do till the next blockbuster disaster!  Engage and entangle as many as possible in whichever way you like. SMS, MMS, SPAM, VOD, each acronym is a new SOS. Someone is screaming for help from channel space and newspaper gutters. It is all about share of mind and wallet. From soap commercials to politics, sport to showbiz, boardrooms to clubs, stock market to evangelism, it is a performance out there- always on. What do the ratings say?  How many eyeballs you grab? How many fort facts you attract?

Where silos of information are as important as food stocks, where look and feel makes the difference between substantial and substantive, where the matter overwhelms mind, this is a world you and I live in today. Who subverts what is immaterial. Fame, ignominy, success and failure are all instant and ephemeral. As much as soup or stardom or even Nirvana. In transience lies immortality.  Its quest is a backbreaking triathlon run over an obstacle course of information, disinformation and opinion in spite of the environment and not because of it.  Titillate, enrapture, ensnare, now and everywhere is the motto. It is a global jungle after all.

Multiple platform delivery is far more enveloping than a clarion call.24x7.356 days. Filling every nanosecond, it is all about choices. News and Information, Books and Discs, Movies and Drama, Songs and Dance, Parks and rides, Zoos and Museums, Malls and Resorts, Stadia and Clubs, Fun and Games, Buying and selling, Informing, Communicating, Entertaining, an ICE onslaught. Relentless, Sixty years ago a radio set was a luxury, TV a fantasy and movies was something you watched occasionally at the nearest talkies. Entertainment was restricted to a rare family outing or a pastime of truant juveniles. Over the years the change has been dramatic. We have seen the magic of movies and movie stars dominate the mindscape of millions. Then came the age of Television and the idiot box has become the new center of gravity of the average household. Now that there is entertainment online, Mobile TV, User Generated content, Blogs are the first milestones of an ‘always on world’.  Pan global or neighborhood, the digital world allows you to choose from a vast bouquet.

However, many sociologists agree that local entertainment and information tends to have more mass appeal than foreign. There is a small section of the audience though which is plugged to the world scene. Multiple devices and platforms are offering increased choice in media to increasingly people today. The world is turning digital. Like other businesses, entertainment is also about market segmentation. In the digital world it is becoming easy to address a single customer. Now it is possible to pull content of choice (Digital video research, I-Tunes, YouTube). The difference between push and pull, between broadcast and uncast is the personalized segmentation of media.  There are very few films or TV shows or Events which appeal to audiences across geographies and psychographics.  Most media attempts to address large groups, linguistic or ethnic.  Now for the first time in history it is possible to access films, news, music and information, whatever on demand anywhere anytime.  This is allowing a thousand diverse media to bloom each with its own unique market.  In this new paradigm business can treat consumers as individuals, offering mass customization or even personalization as an alternative to mass-market fare.

The advantages are spread widely. For the entertainment industry itself the on-demand,         pay-per-use model is a remarkably efficient form of marketing, allowing smaller films and less-mainstream music and videos to find an audience. For consumers, the improved choice and convenience that comes on-line encourages exploration and can reawaken a passion for music and film, potentially creating a far larger entertainment market overall. For example, the average Netflix in the US customer rents nine DVDs a month, three times the rate at Blockbuster. The largest music distribution company in the world today is Apple.  And the cultural benefit of all of this is much more diversity, reversing the blending effects of a century of distribution scarcity and ending the tyranny of the hit, says Chris Anderson a media expert. Already social networking websites like Facebook, Orkut, My Space, have billions of posts including songs and films, personal videos and live reportage.

While cinema will remain a popular media well into the next decade its manner and form will change. Films will no longer be made on film. Recent hits like “AVTAAR” have been shot on digital cameras. In the next ten years almost all feature films and TV shows will have large chunks created on computers. There are over 10000 cinema theatres worldwide - 2000 in India, which actually do not screen any "film" as such but project digital images. In a few years, all films will be projected digitally sourced from a secure server. Often delivered by satellite or served through optic fiber backbones or even through Wireless Broadband. Each stream psycho graphically customized to suit different audience profiles. On the one hand you have video-on-demand and on the other there is a single worldwide simulcast of the new blockbuster.  Today you could watch an old Satyajit Ray classic or the latest Brad Pitt hit sitting at home accessing some archive through your broadband device perhaps on your wall-sized TV screen or the giant screen of your next-door multiplex or if you want on your mobile device.

Robert Dowling the former editor of Hollywood Reporter writing on the entertainment of the future said, “Time paradigms will change. Advertisers will no longer chafe under the restrictions of the 30-second commercial and programmers of serial entertainment will be freed from 22-minute half-hours and 48-minute hours. With the home-theaters standard issue and cell phones, PDAs and other mobile devices just about everywhere, audiences will hunker down for full-season viewathons just as readily as they'll catch snippies while waiting in lines. Programming will be configured for every device and all time frames at the viewer's request. Entertainment forms of five minutes or less will facilitate a different style of artist”.I believe we will consume multiple streams of media simultaneously but not one device. We will retrieve music, film, news, games and whatever else we want simply by tapping into the wireless ether or plugging into a socket not unlike the current electric wall socket. The theme-park ride concept will translate first to hotels, malls and other public gathering places then migrate to the home, where we will be able to feel the motion and experience the activity.  It is not that all existing formats will disappear.  Digital age has exhibited 2 latent consumption patterns: `ease of access’, and individualized, customized consumption.

The Digital world has much less inequity than the real world. Development patterns are already being altered.  Take India and China; not only are they the two most populous nations in the world but are the two fastest growing economies. India has gone from 0 to 650 million mobile phones in less than 15 years. In South Asia and Africa some of the poorest people are getting the benefit of communication and concomitant services including banking for the first time.  India has just embarked on the world’s largest Unique Personal Identity Project which in the next 5 years enable each of its 1.2 billion people will become an active participant in digital society.

Internet has evolved from web 1.0 (www) to web 2.0(user interaction). Web 3.0 (semantic web – intelligent agents, personal assistants) will evolve further. While web 3.0 is a distant concept in working, we already have a sketch of web 4.0 – learning web, real 3D, personal intelligent assistants, and sensory capabilities. Storage, networking, computing & app technologies are continuously evolving – becoming faster, speedier & affordable.  Similarly, Communication technologies like 4G / 5G (Wireless Broadband) are around the corner as our new devices.

However, Cultures shall remain referentially perpetual as ever; a set of habits, knowledge, traditions, art, etc. will evolve to creating space for a new or a modified set, as effected by the digital culture!


Amit Khanna