Goodbye Broadcast. Hello Context.
The end of the Age of Broadcast came to the House of Israel not with rolling thunder and parting skies, but a small black box being deposited into a larger cardboard box. Let me explain:
When we moved into our new home in August, I put my trusty Proton 320 radio on my night stand where it has resided since about 1988. The bedrooms and nightstands have changed over the years, but not my black Proton, with its bluish digital display that had soothed me to sleep with classical before automatically shutting off at night and awakened me the same way for many years. When I bought it, it was state of the art for human-centered design in home electronics. I could easily find the correct buttons in the dark, I could find the Doze button without even lifting a lid on difficult mornings.
When we moved this time, the Proton assumed its usual position. But, somehow, it never got plugged in. While it was my habit to have the radio by my bed, the function of the device had been consumed by my iPhone, which was far small and infinitely more versatile. Radio stations, time displays and alarms were just minor functions in a device that today few people can live without. Only those of us who are older can recall when radios were regarded with the same value.
Today, I took the Proton off my night stand. It was not a particularly emotional event, nor did its meaning seem particularly monumental.
But still, it got me thinking: the things that are valued so highly today will eventually be replaced. The objects we covered are destined to become junk and moving forward this phenomenon will happen faster and faster. Personally, I think this is a good thing, but there are always prices to be paid for good things. These thoughts struck me today
Searching for Little People
One of my earliest memories comes from about 1950 when I was five or six years old and the center of my family home was the Philco Radio in the den, where we circled around and listened to Martin Kane, Private Eye, the Shadow and Sky King. We laughed at the comics as Uncle Don read them to us kiddies on Sunday mornings and we got a fair amount of news of the world from the Philco at the center of our family. We sang the jingles in the commercials and bought the products they foisted upon us in the hopes of having whiter sheets, and a few years later believing that where there is a man, there is a Marlboro.
This was the Golden Age of Broadcast, of the beginning of global consumer marketplaces, of the hidden persuaders of advertising. It was the beginning of the illusion that famous people of theater and politics were visiting us in our living room, where they would talk and we would listen.
I was fascinated by this device. It drew me in more than most of my teachers and many of my friends. Because it was just audio, it allowed me to imagine the people speaking and the actions that sound effects implied: I was also curious about the technology.
The Philco would become the reason for my first major punishment. I was curious about the tiny people who must be inside the box, so I got hold of a screwdriver and opened up the box in search of Sky King, my personal favorite. I took out all the innards and smashed a vacuum tube or two, thinking they might be inside. I had no idea that my mother could scream that loud, and it was clear that in that household, my scientific curiosity would not be encouraged.
It was the first time I would live in a house that had no radio appliance, and today marks the second. I now understand that devices can connect me with other people without miniaturization of the people themselves.
Up with Context
have spent a good portion of the last 12 years speaking and writing about the end of the Age of Broadcast and the beginning of a new era, an era where technology and people come closer together, an era when marketers will stop trying tell people what they should want and will start listening to people on the social web say what they do want; it is an era where things and people the world over become part of one humongous network, where everyone and everything can interact, and people can decide for themselves how much or how little they choose to interact.
I am all for this, as I have so often expressed. Despite the dangers I see such as the loss of privacy or children being raised with so much technological connection that they have lost the ability to understand body language. There are prices to pay with the birth of any new era and the greater the era, the steeper the price may be.
But today, I am not thinking much about the magnitude of things, how little things–such as a discarded radio–may portend greater things such as the accelerating demise of what remains of the so-recently powerful Age of Broadcast and the relentless rise of Contextual Technologies.
Today I am thinking of the life and death of appliance and devices, personal items that social archeologists will study centuries from now to understand who we are today.
Recently, I was in Sydney Australia, where I visited the Powerhouse Museum, which has several floors displaying examples of design, technology, and crafts. On the second floor, there is a small room dedicated to the history of personal technology starting with the electric typewriter and moving quickly through the 26-pound Osborne Portable Computer, the Macintosh , walkie-talkie type cell phones and other devices, all of which I have seen, used, owned in my adult lifetime. There are videos by people with whom I have crossed paths including Doug Engelbart who was among the first to argue that digital technologies should extend human capabilities rather than replace them, but is mostly remembered for the optical computer mouse. There’s black and white videos of Wozniak and Jobs as they looked when I first met them in 1980. There’s the first Mac SE, which for many years was my most prized possession.As we enter the dawn of this new Age of Context, the tools of our lives become artifacts far more rapidly than has ever happened. Somewhere, perhaps, a Proton 320 may be preserved under glass, where people my age can bring their grandchildren to stare at and see how quaint we were back at the end of the last century.
This is not something to lament, so much as to marvel at. I am think a lot these days about what artifacts will be preserved for my grandchildren’s grandchildren to marvel and giggle at in the Powerhouse Museums of the future. I think about that as I look at new phone standards that begin to allow buyers to tell sellers what they want rather than the reverse. I think about that when I see the nascent disruption in entertainment, education, marketing, exploration, health and commerce being pushed rapidly by innovations in augmented and virtual reality.
For one thing, I believe the mobile phone will be an artifact under glass to be remembered with the same sort of nostalgia I feel for my first manual typewriter, or the 1965 Ford Falcon that was my first car. For another, I believe that screens will disappear as VR and AR allow us to see people we want to talk with as holographic images stand or dance before us and as movies, concerts and sporting events start surrounding fans rather than having fans and audience surround performances.
The devices I have owned when from leading edge to obsolete in a period of time far shorter than I had thought will happen. I am reasonable certain that phones and screens are about to start experiencing the very same fates.