Faster than the speed of morph...

Subject: Faster than the speed of morph...
From: "Doug, Data Librarian at Ext 4225" <engstromdd -at- PHIBRED -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 30 Nov 1995 12:50:33 -0600


The recent thread on the efficacy of multimedia vs. books (selected
excerpts follow) has awakened some of my old questions about multimedia,
which are especially relevant, I think, as falling tool prices and a
deepening pool of experts make multimedia an increasingly viable choice to
deliver technical information, especially training.

First, the clips:

On Wed, 15 Nov 1995, Peter Kent wrote:

"'do we need books anymore, when we have multimedia.' Another
participant, in his early 20s I think, stated that for his generation
the printed word really wasn't very effective anymore, and that
multimedia was a quicker way to share information."

On Thur, 16 Nov 1995, Joyce Flaherty adds (in response to someone
else's assertion that the participant in question "is an idiot."):

"First, supporting the premise that multimedia is a quicker way
to share information does not qualify an individual as an idiot."

And then she gets on to something really interesting with:

"IMHO, a relational information database does not lend itself to the
printed page anymore."

My thoughts:

Both contributors to the thread, (and several others who participated but
aren't included) touched on "speed" as the primary virtue of multimedia.
The more I think on it, the more I'm convinced that whatever the virtues of
multimedia are (and just for the record, I think it *does* have a
considerable number) raw speed isn't one of them. Despite endless
repetition of the claim, speed isn't a virtue of television or video,

Consider. The words that Dan Rather (or whoever) laboriously slogs
through during a typical half-hour wouldn't fill half the front page of the
average newspaper. Even the -slowest- readers could cover ground faster
than that. The same is true of words spoken in a multimedia script;
speaking is so much slower than reading that in terms of raw data transfer
rate, there's just no comparison.

BUT, this assumes that words and only words convey meaning. To account for
the perceived increase in the speed of information flow, there must be
something about the pictures, sound, video clips, etc. that conveys more
information than the words associated with them. Somehow, we derive more
information, or at least *different* information from, say, *seeing* a
procedure performed in animation than we derive from reading a description
of the same procedure.

Which brings me to Joyce's second point. Given that multimedia and other
more "visual intensive" forms of information convey something more or
different than their "pure print" equivalents, do we have the opportunity
to deliver something entirely new to our audiences?

Perhaps more important, do we *need* these forms to deal with some of the
stuff we're throwing at our customers? Joyce's point about the relational
database is well taken. Speaking as someone who has tried it, any
pure-paper representation of an RDBMS ends up being limited and clumsy.
('course, I haven't found anything that does work really well...) As
technology advances and forces our audiences to higher and higher levels
of abstraction, can we use the new tools to make things coherent and
usable for them? And if so, how?

I'll admit that these thoughts are half-formed and incomplete; this is
supposed to be the start of a discussion, not a definitive statement. But
I think the questions are important, and talking about multimedia as if
it's just a faster way to read isn't going to answer them.


Doug "No one gets to miss the storm of What Will Be,
ENGSTROMDD -at- phibred -dot- com just holding on for the ride."

-- The Indigo Girls

The preceding opinions and positions are mine alone, and are only
coincidentally related to those of Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.

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