Critics have long said we live in a consumer culture of disposable technologies, and that our ravenous, face-forward consumption of new tech is a part of a larger cultural ethos that society is at its best when it’s moving ahead, leaving the past behind as we use the technologies of today to create the world of tomorrow, yada yada yada.
Maybe so but the adoption of new technologies doesn’t have to be—and realistically never has been—a binary thing. You don’t flip a switch and everybody’s now on a new system or way of working. It’s why we have so many formats and standards—because figuring out what comes next and how to get there is rarely as clean, tidy and obvious as we’d like it to be. Instead, the process of getting to tomorrow’s technologies and standards is usually messy, with wrong yet logical turns and, conversely, insightful leaps of faith—which means the adoption of new technology is often a very human process.
I’ve been mulling that a lot this past month. Changing technologies and new applications for them were readily evident at the NAB Show in Las Vegas. Case in point: the new Esports Experience at the convention, which explored how broadcast technologies are being applied to the fast-growing entertainment format. It's a process you can read about in one of our recent cover stories, Esports Engage at NAB Show.
And yet, in that issue's other cover story, Studio Design Shifts with the Times, looking at the changing face of studio design, Brad Graham, VP of sales for ProCo Sound in Jackson, MO, muses that the rise of digital recording “created a submarket of analog gear that people can pick up for a song.” Inexpensive—if older—technologies like that can help level the playing field in the audio world, and they further underline the fact that technology adoption by content creators, regardless of their field, is never a uniform shift. Instead, it creates a broader variety of creator and user experiences.
Podcasting is a perfect example, as it’s a content format that gets created everywhere, from WSDG-designed facilities like Stitcher (see Stitcher’s Flexible New Facility), where pros use top-shelf gear, to kitchen tables where amateurs use the Voice Memo app on their iPhone. Are pros and amateurs on a now-level playing field? Maybe, but the resulting podcast from one is probably easier to listen to than the other. Some might argue that podcasting is also an example of how having money for technology creates two strata of content, where pros are listened to and amateurs aren’t, but that’s been the case since the dawn of media. Plenty of people watch the Travel Channel, but nobody wants to watch their in-laws’ vacation videos.
Nonetheless, you can’t count out amateurs. Not only are a few going to become the next pros, but sometimes they reinvent things along the way. I was reminded of that recently when I visited New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art for the press day on the excellent new exhibit, Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock and Roll.
Putting aside the fact that it’s a breathtaking, must-see exhibition full of gorgeous—and often legendary—instruments, taking pride of place there is the famous “Frankenstein” guitar that a 20-year-old, pre-fame Eddie Van Halen shoved together using chunks of other instruments. When you look at it up close, the homemade effort looks more likely to electrocute someone than make sound—and yet it became the tool that helped reinvent guitar playing. The point is, amateurs? You never know.
Ultimately, we can’t lose sight of the fact that all content creation technologies—old or new, analog or digital—are not ends unto themselves, but are merely tools meant to serve the ways we create and what we’re trying to convey in the process. I saw legendary producer/musician T-Bone Burnett play a set at a local record shop on Record Store Day in mid-April and while he pointed out from the stage that he preferred “analog and vinyl, especially [since] it’s a much more stable storage medium than digital,” it was more striking when he essentially said in so many words that in this digital age, the medium is still very much the message.
“In an age of ubiquitous information, having something that’s personal and real and solid is important,” he opined. “The United States has spread its message of freedom and innovation all around the world with music. The musicians have been our best goodwill ambassadors [through] the soft power of music.” That’s a pretty nice reminder that regardless of what tools and technologies we use in our creative and content delivery processes, it’s the content itself and the thought put into what’s being said that matters most—and which can ideally change the world for the better.