Content, in Context.

 

© Kantor  1996 

Is convergence really the natural evolution of things? Can’t we just have computers and TVs, telephones and VCRs? Must we have one hyper-appliance to serve all our information and entertainment needs? Apparently some futurists really think that we want stock quotes running along the bottom of "Survivors". Oprah gesticulating in a cell within Excel. Hey, Oprah, speak up! What did you say was the threshold for Return on Invested Capital for this financing deal?

More or less, everything has a place, and sociologists know this. Car/adrenaline/motion. Bed/sex/sleep. Sure, each of us is a little different, but the Pavlovian processes are at work for all of us, in some form or another. Me, I have a powerful, involuntary relaxation reaction when I lay back in front of my TV, even if it isn’t even turned on. In this mode, please don’t ask me to interact too much — I can barely surf. Conversely, leave the Beethoven off my work desk, thanks. There, my mind is on demanding things, problem-solving things. I have no time to give myself over to resplendent Odes to Joy. There are specific times and places, different milieus that I associate strong emotional settings with and expect equally strong conditioned reactions to accompany. These might hasten my relaxation after a stressful day, or heighten my alertness for problem solving. I count on them.

Consumer electronic equipment makers, in their perpetual quest for the new and under-penetrated, seem to think we all want one-box service, as if the context of our media consumption were no longer really relevant. Is it really just the software, the content that makes the difference? I don’t think so. I am not a simple machine. I need to cuddle. I need foreplay. I need romance. Sometimes I need a little solitary anxiety. I cannot easily write heartfelt personal emails sharing a screen with my friend downloading recipes for dinner. I cannot properly relax for an evening movie sitting in the same chair in which, just a few hours ago, I decided to pull the rug out from under Bill Gates’ plans for world browser domination. Furniture and fashion designers implicitly understand this simple issue. Why can’t technoids? Too much Jetsons and not enough Psych 101 in the childhood diet, methinks.

I know I am oversimplifying the idea of convergence. There is some wisdom to consolidating the ever-expanding information flow of our lives into a pipeline that is flexibly and efficiently managed. But functional information had better branch off quick once it reaches the actual living space, like the AC from the wall sockets, so I can use it where and as I please, with as little pre-bias as to form and user demand as possible. It’s already a data-intense world most of us live in. I need to be able to segment aspects of my life along physical and functional boundaries, rather than dragging one chair to every room in the house.  

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