Jonathan Tyrrell comments on the discussion
I am following this discussion with tremendous interest, though I think that we ought to be careful about assumptions and value judgements regarding the legitimacy of certain forms of communication and knowledge - a retrofit of the high/low culture debate. For example, if we were to study "everyday" face-to-face conversations, would we discover less or more idle chatter?
One of the things I find interesting about these technologies is they way they seem to evolve and respond to the cultures they inhabit, as they simultaneously shape and influence the ways we communicate.
Ron Burnett responds
Your points are important. I think that the evolution of new technologies works in a number of different ways. An apparatus or tool is invented and then marketed. In general, most new inventions fail. Those that do succeed evolve with the marketplace. The iPod is a good example. The core cencepts that produced the iPod have not changed, but its evolution into a mini iPod and then the Shuffle, suggests that users are more interested in portability than storage. Portability and style, look and feel have all made the iPod a success. Ultimately, whether the iPod represents a shift from one mode of music listening to another will depend on whether users will be able to customize it to fit their own and sometimes quite individual needs.
Contrast this with the evolving nature of video games. As video games morph into mass entertainment, they become less and less customizable. Their plots and storylines, their look and feel have already become relatively stale. The key to unlocking the evolution of this process will be games that can be rewritten or developed from the ground up by amateurs. Cultural innovation in any medium is only possible when people can take control of the core elements and recreate that core to fit their needs and outlook.
Being the recent recipient of an iPod shuffle (an early Father's Day present), I'd like to add one thought:
I've divided the 1GB, half for songs, half to carry the files I'm working on. In other words, I have a memory stick that sings to me. I can see this as an incentive to not just save music and other multi-media but to integrate it more closely into the work I save and transport on my memory stick. To make this work better will require more bridges across the iTunes/other data divide (definitely a social challenge). It will inevitably require more memory as well,
Second observation: iTunes is now expanding into a podcasting resource (free and not so free). I've actually talked to some Apple people about using it as an educational resource, i.e. assembling multi-media course kits that could be bought the same way my hard copy course kits are bought at the bookstore.
The advantage from my end is copyright clearance - which, or so my friends at the course kit dept. of the bookstore warn me, is about to jack up the prices of course kits and make much material unavailable. Perhaps we need corporate clout to fight corporate clout. But from Apple's end, the prospect might be attractive not simply from the point of view of course kit sales (with free assembly labour provided by the world's academics) but also in encouraging the sales of reading devices, i.e. the iPods and iMacs of the future. They've gone off (one of them to Cupertino) to mull it over.