Multimedia — who cares?

Keith White
21 January, 2008
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Multimedia: the use of computers to present text, graphics, video, animation, and sound in an integrated way. (webopedia)

a combination of text, audio, stillimages, animation, video, and interactivity content forms. (wikipedia)

Something old people talk about. (young people)

When I first got into multimedia in a big way in the early ’90s, the word was on everyone’s lips. As an early member of The Australian Interactive Media Industry Association (AIMIA, founded 1992) all we talked about was this new thing — multimedia. The M in the title originally meant multimedia but we dropped it in 2003 as it had largely fallen out of usage within the industry, with most people starting to use interactive media or digital media. 1992 was around the time that fuzzy little videos arrived on the Mac desktop driven by Adobe Premiere 1.0 and something called QuickTime. Before that we’d had Hypercard, which mixed bitmaps with sound, text and simple transitions which gave some feeling of animation. Before that the cutting edge folk had been playing on the Mac since 1984 with VideoWorks which by 1993 had morphed into Macromedia Director 4.0. Which is where I and many others came in.

Last year I gave a presentation to a group of Year 10 students at a Melbourne Secondary College Careers Expo. None of them could define multimedia, and as I explained it for them they glassed over. Then I got it. There was no such thing for them. It was like when my (baby boomer) generation’s parents and grandparents used to talk about the wireless — to remind themselves of the magic of sound transmission through the ether without wires. To us as kids it was just radio. We used it abundantly through our trannies — the iPods of their day. Same with multimedia. To us in at the beginning it was simple magic to be able to do all these things on a computer. We spent days — weeks — submerged in Director marshalling our images, video, sound, text, graphics and animation. It was sooo multi …

Fast forward a mere fifteen years and all forms of digital media are so developed and easy to use that even Director struggles to find a niche. No update since Version 10 in 2004. Version 11, which will come from the Adobe stable, is problematic and may only be cosmetic. Most of the stuff I used to do on CD-ROM in Director — documentaries and training materials — I can roll out on DVD in a tenth of the time with iLife or Final Cut. And there’s no compromise in quality like when we had to shoehorn all that stuff into 650MB. And no three-month testing period to make sure it worked on every single beige Billy box out there.

Today’s school students have always had multimedia — it’s just the way things are for them. It’s no big deal. Especially when you consider the power they have in their iPods with capacity and speed we could only dream about on our wheezing MacPluses. Even my 30-something kids have the same attitude. Of course they can e-mail a slideshow of Christmas pix with sound and music over to England. Straight after it happens. On a phone. It’s just stuff — get over it, Dad.

Reminds me of a project in 1993 where I used the exciting new PDF format for the first time. And the flak I copped for using such unproven technology. Now PDFs have the ubiquity that Adobe intended. It’s like they’ve always been here, like JPEGs and MP3s. Haven’t they?
But then again, wireless has come back in Wi-Fi. Plus ça change …

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