Is mobile entertainment empowering or imprisoning -- or both? http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06010/635142.stm
Tuesday, January 10, 2006 By Monica Haynes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Norma Desmond, the silent-film star of "Sunset Boulevard," was right. It is the pictures that got small. Those people who used to be out there in the dark movie theater or on the couch in front of their TV sets are now on the school bus, in the doctor's office, or at their desks watching movies and television shows, listening to music or surfing the Web on small devices with tiny screens. Cellphones to PDAs, iPods to PSPs are making it possible for us to never leave home without access to entertainment and/or information. "Mobile content" was the buzzword at last week's Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. Major players like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft along with untold numbers of smaller companies are trying to carve out a slice of this ever-growing iPod-inspired pie. However, the proliferation of handheld devices, and the rush to provide nonstop content for them, leads not to the question: If you provide it, will they access it? Ringtones, a $3 billion business last year, answered that. No, the question is: If you provide it, should they access it -- all the time? Do we have control over the technology or does the technology have control of us? That's the question that Linda Garcia, director of communication, culture and technology at Georgetown University, asks her students. Her department was established nearly 10 years ago to look at where social, technological, economic and political issues come together. "Technology becomes a form of life. We mold ourselves to fit the technology as opposed to the technology fitting particular needs we have," Dr. Garcia said. "The industry that supports this form of life becomes embedded in our society." Her students develop products in class and talk about the negative and positive aspects of them. "I think technology is neither good nor bad. It's what are the conditions it's being used in," she said. "I think the most significant question to ask is under what circumstances do we have control." Some could argue that mobile content providers are offering the ultimate in control. "You access what you want, when you want it and how you want it," said Ralph Vituccio, director of Media Development in Communications Design and an instructor in the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. "In my age group, you don't see people who are accustomed to that kind of viewing," said the 55-year-old instructor. "They'd rather sit down in a passive way and do it." Younger people want two things, choice and control, and they don't care about anything else, he said. Dianne Lynch, dean of the Parks School of Communications at Ithaca College, also believes that there is a correlation between the intensity of the demand for mobile content and the age of the consumer. "Cyberkids grew up with the Internet. They have no experience that does not include ubiquitous, pervasive, on-demand content," she said. "They expect to be able to access information, entertainment, news you can use. ... We are a mediated culture, and to the degree that media becomes mobile we will take it with us." To help students develop the skills needed to feed this burgeoning industry, Dean Lynch is sponsoring a "film" contest called Cellflix. High school and college students can submit a 30-second narrative film with audio done entirely with a video cellphone. The prize is $5,000. "I think our choice is going to be consistently, if we can we will," Mr. Lynch said. "[Students] are going to need to know how to make content for mobile delivery." Mr. Vituccio and four of his graduate students also are riding the wave by developing what they call "micro-content". They're producing a student-written piece set on a college campus, a drama based in an office and an animated series. A 30-minute children's program, originally done for television, is being retrofitted to a mobile format. But being able to use technology for creative purposes, which Mr. Vituccio sees as empowering, points to the ever-present social and class issues. "If you don't have open access to technology and new technology, you tend to use it rather than develop it," he said. One of the drawbacks of mobile content Mr. Vituccio sees is that it will provide yet another outlet for advertisers to target young people and drive programming. "In other words, you can run, but you can't hide," he said. "It'll become even more ubiquitous, but it will still be selling you the same old stuff." David Greenfield, a psychologist and author of the book "Virtual Addiction," said society must treat any technology with a sense of awareness. "Not everybody will get addicted in the sense that they will spend 10 hours a day on it," he said. "But it's more about how it impacts their lives and their relationships." Like many of us, Dr. Greenfield uses technology in his daily life. He owns a cell phone and a PDA and recently bought an MP3 player online. However, after a few minutes of fiddling with it, he sent it back. "Not because I don't like music and don't want to do it," he said. But the thought of having another piece of technology to lug around, another charger to worry about carrying, deterred him, he said. "It's one of the healthiest choices I ever made," Dr. Greenfield said. "People need to make choices and not just get it and assume it's a good thing. ... If technology is all that great, why isn't everybody happy?" (Monica Haynes can be reached at [EMAIL PROTECTED] or 412-263-1660.) You are a subscribed member of the infowarrior list. Visit www.infowarrior.org for list information or to unsubscribe. This message may be redistributed freely in its entirety. Any and all copyrights appearing in list messages are maintained by their respective owners.