How do we know when a media technology is maturing? Look at how well it reflects society. Communications technologies often start with a limited set of users, and often a limited appeal. And there are often contradictory forces at work in media innovation, for example when Monk scribes gave way to Gutenberg’s printing press. Religious elite lost some cache, but the rewards were expanded literacy and increased creativity in literature.
Photography is an early example of a media that could both document life and afford artists a new medium to reflect life. But today there is a major difference: ubiquity. In 1997, it was estimated that there were more than 150 billion photographs existed in the U.S., and that was well before digital cameras. Today almost everyone has access to a still and video camera. Yesterday’s photojournalism is today’s snapshots. And the advent of photo sharing is also blurring the lines between amateur and commercial photography.
Music has been around about as long as Homo sapiens, and perhaps since the Homo neanderthalensis. But the transformative nature of music, its ability to fuel the social activism of the 1960s, for example, could only occur with innovations recording (starting with the phonograph) and distribution (beginning with radio). With the advent of Internet music sharing, there is a new wave of do-it-yourself creativity in music, whether through self-published albums, mashups, or local iPod DJ nights.
Documentary and experimental film is as old as the medium itself. But documentaries of the early 20th century were from the viewpoint of a few documentarians. One side of innovation in film distribution has increased the public’s access to our homes, cars, even stadium seating. The other side is more the surge in production. Just look at the Viewer Created Content on Current TV to understand how everyone from high school students to priests and drug dealers are sharing their point of view. And motion pictures are increasingly activist: The box office now has hits with political editorials, documentaries about global warming or docudramas about genocide.
So what about video games? Where do they fit in? It depends who you ask. Those under 40, probably grew up playing them and understand the appeal. The baby boomers have likely avoided video games, save for the ones that best imitate the card games they grew up with. First person shooter games have often been blamed for increased violence. The Economist magazine would beg to differ (see chart at right). Perhaps violent video games don’t reflect crime patterns perfectly, but they do reflect what’s CBS weeknight programming pretty well.
But do video games reflect more than violence in society? More on that shortly.
Sources & Notes:
DVDs include all DVD video software shipments in North America. Data provided by Digital Entertainment Group
Book sales data: Seattle Times
Movie Tickets: Motion Picture Association of America
CDs sales include only CD albums. No CD singles, LPs or downloaded music was included. Data provided by Record Industry Association of America
Games include computer and videogames. Data provided by the Entertainment Software Association