Monday, February 11, 2008

The National New York Geographic Times

A little bit ago I mentioned a late-80s Media Lab brainstorming session in which someone suggested that, given "effectively infinite" bandwidth of 500Mb/s, one could have "a daily National Geographic-quality New York Times with today's news rather than yesterday's, manufactured at the breakfast table."

I wanted to take another look at how that stacks up with where we really are, 20 years later, because I can see two opposite conclusions one could draw, equally not-quite-convincing:
  • It happened. Printed newspapers and magazines are not gone, but it's quite possible to get one's news entirely from online sources, up to the minute, with pictures and even video (The video's a bit on the small and grainy side, but at least you don't have to have someone standing by the TV set with a coat hanger, a roll of aluminum foil and one hand out the window. Progress.)
  • It's nowhere near happening. No one even makes a mass-market printer that will produce broadsheet-sized, glossy magazine-quality copy quickly and (just as vital) cheaply. A few dozen pages at magazine-quality resolution is probably running into gigabytes even with compression (photos take way, way more space than text, so the question is what portion of the page is photos). That's a daunting number for most of us.
I'd synthesize these thus: It didn't happen exactly as envisioned, but the basic shift toward real-time, media-rich news is very much ongoing. The high-definition version hasn't happened partly because the bandwidth isn't there, but arguably one reason the bandwidth isn't there is that high definition is not nearly as important as immediacy.

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