Overhead Projectors, Broadcast Channels and Other Redundant Technologies

Nigel Walley – Feb 2009

I used an overhead projector for a presentation at a conference the other day.  It was great.  You get to write on a sheet of acetate, like your teachers used to, and it shines up on the wall.  Joking aside, there was something immediate and human about presenting ideas with an overhead that is completely lost with Powerpoint.  I know that I sound like a music nut comparing vinyl to the CD, but in the rush to move into the digital age, we can sometimes throw the baby out with the bath water.   Before we got rid of overheads, someone should have stopped and questioned whether there was anything great about them that needed preserving.  In fact I think they may make a comeback


On that not, let’s pursue the point about music formats.  It is likely that we will have a similar situation with LPs.  There will be many people who will end up owning a vinyl collection, and an iTunes collection of music, but will forgo their CDs all together.  CDs may go the way of the VHS tape and the VideoDisc.  I find it difficult to imagine someone saying what I just said about overheads, about CDs.   I did hear a very persuasive defence of the audio cassette the other day, particularly its role in the creation of compilations, as a gesture of love amongst teenagers, but I think the days of the audio cassette are gone.  Vinyl will be the great survivor because there is something about LPs that is great and human, and that people don’t want to let go of.


CDs will become what the Americans call a ‘buggy whip’ product.  Apparently at the turn of the 19th century in America, making hand held whips, for drivers of horse drawn buggies was big business.  Then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t. ‘Buggy Whip’ has come to be used to mean a product or industry that just disappears as a market is redefined rather than revised.  


The distribution format debate has now begun to rage in the TV world around broadcast channels.  It only used to be the most fundamentalist wing of our new media brethren who would speak about the death of broadcasting channels. Now everyone is at it.  I have heard the most sensible people talking about not needing broadcast channels, and how they are now 100% on-demand. Now there is a very sensible technical argument against the death of broadcast.  If you want 11 million people to watch Coronation Street at 7.30 every night, then sticking it up in the air, rather than through an expensive network, makes the best economic sense. However, two counter arguments are appearing. The first is a neat technical rebuff.  Once we get fibre everywhere, like the cable industry, there will be sufficient capacity to not worry and that we should just make it available on-demand from 7.30.  The second argument says that making everyone watch Corrie at 7.30 at night is an old fashioned construct.


Now this is where the human in me starts to revolt again.  Millions of people around the country build the social routines of their household – dinner, bathtimes –  around channel schedules. Do they do this because there is no alternative and with on-demand then broadcasts are the next buggy whip.  I am not yet convinced, and the argument fails around live football.  However, I can remember when Prince Charles used to talk about organic food and saving the planet and everyone thought he was a nutter?

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