Monday, February 6, 2012

Technology and the future of news dissemination

By HH Mohrmen

What is history if it does not even serve to remind us of the past and teach us how to live in the future? The year that was has indeed proved how emerging media tools have changed the way people share news and information and has even proved to be useful tools for people to organize themselves and start agitations against the powers that be. I hope this write-up will enlighten us about the new media technology that is available now and how to make the best use of it.
As an eight year old boy I still remember an incident when a Bengali grocery shop owner in the Iawmusiang market of Jowai whom the locals called Makhon (Ajoy Lywait’s father) stepped out of the old DC’s office with an old Philips radio in his hand to share the news of the general election in 1975 which he translated from Hindi to Pnar; not that I remember any of the news that he translated; but that image is still fresh in my mind. I first heard an LP disc player in our neighbours house and few years later my late uncle Iahnam Mohrmen returned from his native village Nongtalang with a Panasonic two-in-one (radio and cassette tape recorder) which was illegally brought from across the border. Well, during those days everything foreign and good only came from across the border. We made the maximum use of the tape recorder but hardly used the radio which comes along with the player except to listen to the evening Pnar news of All India Radio, Shillong. Later on the Japanese came up with a smaller version of a cassette tape recorder which the owner can put in his pocket. That was the walkman.
Then it was the advent of the Television and the first television show we watched in Jowai was a programme telecast by the Bangla TV. Knight Rider was the most popular serial then. Was it during the World Cup 1984 that football enthusiasts from Shillong took their TV lock stock and barrel to the Dawki area only to watch the World Cup Final using our generous neighbour’s airwaves? I look back and realize that these entire fancy entertainment medium came to us in the span of a decade or so. For a few years people had to be satisfied with the programme telecast by our national broadcaster the Doordarshan and the other option was to put up an antennae on a high pole; hopefully to get the Bangla TV programme and the higher the pole the better the reception would be.
Then it was the time of the VCP and VCR and home entertainment begun in a big way. With the ushering of VCR, VCP and video cameras people have even started experiencing with making their own videos especially of weddings and birthdays. If my memory serves me right it was in the early nineties that the people of Shillong had their first taste of Cable TV, and like they say the rest is history. Once cable network started coming up in different parts of the city, TV took over the entertainment business and made cinema halls, VCP, VCR and even VCD which came later redundant. Cinema hall business started going downhill and very soon many had to close shop. With the coming of cable TV networks the owners started covering local news and broadcasting them on their networks.
We are here now enjoying digital quality of Cable TV programme and digital TV rules the roost but for how long? Simultaneously, people have started using cell phones and the mobile phone technology had change so fast that in the span of a year or two users had the option of sticking to their old black and white set or to switch to a colour set. Then mobile phone sets started becoming fancy tools; first we had radios and the torchlight added to a mobile phone set, then a calculator, a music player, a camera followed by a video camera, GPS tool, internet tools and what have you. And now we are in the era of iphones and smart phones and the era of 3G and 4G spectrums as they call it.
In the early nineties people also started using computer but I personally, first saw a computer at the BDPS institute in Dhanketi Shillong sometime between the years 1986-87. I had the first opportunity to touch or rather to play pool games on my friend’s computer in the year 1989 while I was in Manchester England. In the year 1989-90 internet was not even available in England but car phones were the must have of the yuppies. A decade later I was able to use the internet and at least use it to read the newspaper and since then the computer and internet have gone through their own evolutionary processes.
Then computer has become smaller but faster and stronger with a variety of software to help people make the best use of the machine. It is not the intention of this write-up to dwell on what one can do with the machine but rather on the evolution of the machine and the convergence of the many tools that we now use separately into one. The evolution of a Computer started from a machine of the size of a room, to a desk top, lap top, to notepad and now to ipads and tablets and it is not the end yet.
When we talk about media, we realize that the medium of disseminating news too has undergone a sea change. The radio gave way to newspaper and television and television and newspaper is now giving way to internet. For so long breaking news is associated with television only, but now the television news corp has a competition from an unlikely competitor – the internet. Nowadays, you don’t need a newspaper to publish your work; there are blogs where one can share one’s writings and even pictures and videos and then there are micro-blogs like Twitter and Facebook. For instance the news of the Seal attack on Osama Bin Laden’s hideout was first shared on Twitter and when the television news channel broke the news, Tweeter users only nodded and remarked “yea we know.” Some news either hit Twitter or Facebook before mainstream media could even break it. Obviously the next generation of news dissemination will be at a personal level. We have heard of terms like ‘citizen journalist’ where a citizen at his own level broadcasts news that he thinks worth sharing and social media will only serve the purpose. Now everybody can become a citizen journalist and the best part is that they would not depend on a newspaper/magazine or even news channel to broadcast the news. One can even share videos of any quality on the internet by uploading it on Youtube and many more sites that allow one to do so. Thanks to the internet again, now anybody with a simple video camera can even live-stream any event, and any person anywhere in the world will be able to enjoy the event -live. In the near future all the tools available now like the smartphone, iphone, ipad and tablets will converge into one to enable us to enjoy and share news and information like we never did before. Very soon technology will change the way we call each other, with the advent of 3G and 4G technology and with the phones that we use video calls will be easier and cheaper and then it will be RIP to the way we call each other now.
Thanks to the rapid development of information technology and the fast evolution of the tools that we use to share and disseminate news, we are in for an exciting explosion of news and information in the future, like they say – the sky is the limit.
(The writer is a social thinker and an environment activist)

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