www.nettime.org
Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> Michael Nash: Notes towards an analysis of the temporal dynami
Pit Schultz on 23 Sep 2000 06:47:06 -0000


[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Michael Nash: Notes towards an analysis of the temporal dynamics of virtuality


[ found this as an interesting interlude before continuing the
place/space thread, to untangle dialectical immaterialisms from
astro-physicalism and ask around what the word *cyber* actually
meant. there is this impression that the disappearence of the notion
of cyberspace has more to offer then which is handable in one paragraph.
while the nasty kovoso trauma thread might interestingly unfold
as a travel through 'our' own discoursive minefields, with all the
dead textes still to be digged up and disected out of
the nettime archive. anyone remember the one about the need
for mass symbols? want to follow the pornographic exitements
about partisan journalism and direct testimony? or, the way dissident
voices (garrin, stahlman, madre, treanor) disappeared rather calmly ?
sure, many of us did just their best duty within a larger choreography
of confusion ... so, let's have some fun first with straight
forward streaming media theory out of the multimedia bootstrap
labs of california .p ]

--


NOTES TOWARDS AN ANALYSIS OF THE TEMPORAL DYNAMICS OF VIRTUALITY 

This collection of thoughts recasts and recontextualizes some ideas and writings 
from several areas of inquiry including cultural criticism and media industry 
analysis in an effort to develop a preliminary framework for a re-assessment of 
the temporal dynamics of virtual communities, particularly as impacted by the 
evolving convergence of television and the Internet. 

"For tribal man, space was the uncontrollable mystery. For technological 
man it is time that occupies the same role." ----- Marshall McLuhan 

I am newly acquainted with the arena of Transarchitectures, but it seems that 
much has already been discussed and written regarding the "time and space 
discontinuum" emerging in digital environments. The postulation of an "aesthetics 
of heterogeneity" seems to have embraced new concepts about the relationships 
between time and space as discussions about form and structure give way to 
notions of "process, field and agency." 

Nevertheless, in the discussions about transcending the "bits vs. bricks" 
conceptualization of virtual space, and such possibilities as distributing space and 
transmitting architecture, the weighting of spatial conceptualizations is clear. The 
discourse of Transarchitectures-though theoretically open to new orientations-
seems to unwittingly perpetuate the subordination of time to space, a practice 
which has characterized Western intellectual history for over 3,000 years. 
History was said to have been invented by the Mesopotamians when they 
initiated the practice of setting down successive records of royalty around 1300 
BC. From this point forward, our conceptualization of time has evolved into a 
spatialization of temporal relationships. The transubstantiation of time into space 
is now so complete that it is virtually impossible for us to think of time or a time 
without mentally manipulating our datebooks, without envisioning a chained link 
of events that assumes metaphoric space in our minds. We speak of distances 
between dates, the length of a vacation, dividing up our time, our life spans. We 
wonder where the time goes. Our identity, our consciousness of self, is 
elaborated as a life story, a narratization of past, present and future within a 
three-dimensional mental landscape where intertwined and cross-referenced 
events are reviewed or previewed, where experience is calendar-ized. (This can 
be seen as part of the larger process of organizing knowledge, as elaborated by 
Michel Foucault, and as a key component of the emergence of consciousness, as 
articulated by Julian Jaynes.) 

By 1300 AD, the mechanical clock began to extend the calendar's spatial framing 
of time to new levels of arithmetical quantification. As Lewis Mumford noted, "The 
clock is a piece of power-machinery whose 'product' is seconds and minutes: by 
its essential nature it dissociated time from human events and helped create the 
belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences....When 
one thinks of time, not as a sequence of experiences, but as a collection of hours, 
minutes and seconds, the habits of adding time and saving time come into 
existence. Time took on the character on an enclosed space: it could be divided, 
it could be filled up, it could even be expanded by the invention of labor-saving 
instruments. Abstract time became the new medium of existence." 

As we prepare to cross the spatially framed threshold of a new millennium, a 
combination of forces seems poised to fundamentally transform the scientific, 
cultural and psychological relativities of time and space. On one end of the 
spectrum, our astronomical technology records little big bangs perhaps 12 billion 
light years away, enabling us to "see" 85% of the way back to the theoretical 
beginning of time, in a burst of cosmic energy that exploded scientific paradigms 
a few months ago. (Obviously a variety of considerations, including the "dark 
matter" problem and measurements paradoxically suggesting that certain stars 
may be older than the Universe itself, makes such quantifications highly 
speculative). Meanwhile, back on the planet and at the other end of the spectrum, 
our networked communications technology has advanced to the point where the 
interconnected virtual experience of nearly 6 billion people's living human history 
completely overshadows all memory of the histories that led up to the present 
moment. 

Theoretical physics has taken the project of spatializing time almost as far as it 
can possibly go, projecting time into a expanse so vast we can almost observe its 
beginning, thereby entrenching the concept of abstract, quantifiable time as a 
cosmic absolute. Space has swallowed time, in theory. The near completion of 
this intellectual project has extended its reach to celestial significance, leaving 
terrestrial matters to practical consumer technology, which has secured the 
triumph of the present over historical time in one of the most important cultural 
evolutions of this century. 

As the scientific, cultural and psychological relativities of time and space become 
realigned, I believe that thinking of virtuality as an amplified present may yield 
some important insights that will be overlooked if we focus exclusively on the idea 
of virtual space without acknowledging the biases inherent to underlying 
conceptual frameworks of tributary discourses. This is my point of departure for 
advancing some preliminary ideas regarding the impact of media and technology 
in redefining the experience of time, and the role temporality may play in 
galvanizing virtual communities, with particular attention paid to the impending 
convergence of TV and the Internet.


Television as Cultural Clock 

It's hard to think of a social problem that hasn't been attributed to television. 
Reduction of attention spans, erosion of family rituals, escalation of violence. Fast 
food, illiterate students, the suburbs. Centralization of media power, the end of 
history, the death of context. The breadth of the charges against television is 
matched only by the depth of its penetration into American culture. When the 
members of the first TV generation die, they will have accumulated nine total 
years of television exposure. While there's a general perception that the influence 
of television is waning at the beginning of the digital era, recent Neilsen Media 
Research data indicates television is being watched in American homes more 
than ever, an average of over seven hours a day in the most recently completed 
broadcast year (1996-97). 

But it's possible that the previous indictments and assessments, even those 
bordering on the hysterical and hyperbolic, have underestimated television's 
fundamental impact. This is because social scientists and commentators theorize 
almost exclusively about how the duration of TV exposure affects people, while 
ignoring how TV exposure affects duration itself. 
Television may have transformed our sense of time as much as any social 
construction since the invention of the clock. How is television accomplishing this 
alteration? Like everything else on TV, the work is being done by the 
commercials. 

In the first public demonstration of TV inventor Philo T. Farnsworth's television 
apparatus in 1927, a dollar sign was presented for sixty-seconds. This 
transmission proved to be an incredibly prescient iconograph, anticipating how 
television spots would restructure collective temporality. On TV, as Farnsworth 
"predicted," time is not only money, but money is time. 
Buying time on TV is a simple enough proposition, but how can TV "buy" time? 
To understand this we must consider how time is experienced. Any conception of 
time passing conjures up a calendar of events, a log of moments, in our minds. 
But, as we have discussed, such concepts treat time as a spatial expanse. We 
experience time passing as duration. And what does the passing of a minute or 
an hour or an evening feel like, as we pass another decade and enter a new 
millennium? With TV sets programming our environments for nearly one-eighth of 
our lives and one-fourth of our childhoods, more people get their sense of 
duration from the sequence of presentations on television than from anywhere 
else. It is the predominant "moving time" experience in our culture, the one with a 
scheduling continuum that runs like "clock work," 24 hours a day, 365 days a 
year. TV is the ultimate pastime. 

In this way, television is advancing the role of the clock as described by Mumford, 
that of synchronizing belief in a common human experience. Underlying the need 
for connection to collective culture, when we go home to empty houses and turn 
on our TV sets to keep us company, we feel less lonely because we believe we 
exist in the same time frame as everyone else. The clock secured belief in an 
autonomous sphere of mathematical time, separate from organic life cycles, 
which governed human events. TV is entrenching a companion realm of 
autonomous moving time, which drives collective culture. 

Commercials establish the time structure of television, with ten, fifteen, thirty and 
sixty-second spots serving as the basic units of TV temporality. As several 
theorists including David Antin have noted, everything on television is segmented 
according to this meter, which divides television's continuous flow into salable 
quantities. It's not just that the commercials regulate the segmentation of the 
programming, the time signature of its pacing and apportionments. The 
programming itself is made up of sub-units that echo the temporal structure of the 
commercials by which it is bracketed. Spots and related promotionals constitute 
nearly one-fourth of what is broadcast, more than any other single "genre," and 
exert tremendous pressure on the timing of television by attenuating viewers to 
abbreviated exposition. 

There are, of course, more than just formal reasons explaining why programs and 
ads are constructed from the same syntax. TV exists to present advertisements, 
and television has always advertised commercials in every sense--TV shows 
depict the world view that makes consumption of goods advertised not only 
desirable, but inevitable. 

Many commentators believe that viewer "recontextualization" of television 
mollifies its effects. But anti-ad maneuvers like zapping commercials, muting 
advertisement audio, and fast-forwarding through spots on videotaped programs, 
don't counter television programs' disruption by, or mimesis of, commercial time 
signatures. And, they may even heighten the effect ads have on our sense of 
duration, in some cases, because these strategies tend to rivet attention on when 
the commercial slots begin and end, on the ad interval. Finally, the "grazing" 
behavior of channel-hopping really only manifests what television has taught us: 
how to increase consumption of "programming" by escalating the pace of its 
relentless montage. 

TV entrenches its leverage in driving preference formation by making duration a 
product of consumer culture. In order to increase opportunities to sell consumers 
demand-driving the rate by which the whole goddamn country sells hot dogs to 
each other, as James M. Cain once put it-the experience of time is being 
systematically expanded through an ever escalating rate of subdivision. 
Corporations can't put more minutes in a day to produce or sell products, but they 
can increase the payload of each minute by accelerating the delivery of images. 
In so doing, they have reduced the interval between discrete recognitions to the 
point where there is no interruption by experiences like reflection, an effect these 
corporations probably don't view with alarm. Duration is thus becoming 
indistinguishable from the audio-visual flow of television, and in a Faustian 
bargain available for a limited time only, the duration of our lives will seem to last 
longer if we will only give more of our time and attention to TV. 
As the pace of the montage accelerates, comprehension is reduced to pattern 
recognition-the consumer then fills in the blanks. To the flash-card procession of 
emptied surfaces we bring genre expectations, narrative implications, and, of 
course, status-by-association fantasies. This is the hidden success formula of 
television advertising. The more TV you see, the more blanks there are to be 
filled in, blanks that expose lacks and absences within us: possessions we don't 
have, successes we haven't attained, emotions we've never realized. What better 
condition could consumers be in than full of synthetic emptiness, which they 
attribute to a lack of artificial goods? 

Television prompts us to abandon isolated intervals of subjective perception for 
the comforting constancy of its collective meter, all in order to sell us things we 
don't have time to use, in part because we watch so much TV. But, in an 
increasingly fragmented world with fewer and fewer sources of commonality, the 
immersion in a collective temporal framework is one of the most powerful 
socialization mechanisms in contemporary life. 

TV's Collective Temporality and Community Constructs 

Historian Edmund Carpenter said in 1972 that "Electricity has made angels of us 
all, spirit freed from flesh, capable of instant transportation anywhere." He was 
talking about various technologies, but his focus was on television. (He would no 
doubt be delighted to have known that 25 years later, his statement would be 
paraphrased for a Motorola TV ad.) 

Television fundamentally transformed society when we discovered how live 
broadcast brought audiences together; the JFK assassination coverage was 
probably the watershed event in this transformation, but the Apollo Moon Landing 
remains its defining example. Just as important as the fact that we were watching 
a human walk on the Moon was the fact that the world was watching together. It 
made collective culture a palpable present-not an idea, but an experience. For 
the first time, everyone understood in their hearts that we truly lived in a Global 
Village. Anyone over the age of 35 remembers where they were when they saw 
this happen on television. We were all there, and we were all there together. We 
shared a moment. In a far more mundane way, entertainment events like Super 
Bowls or the final episodes of hit TV series like M*A*S*H and Seinfeld , news 
events such as the death of Princess Diana and the O.J. Simpson trial, and 
made-for-TV spectacles like the Gulf War, continue to demonstrate how powerful 
the reach of the medium can be in creating a collective present. (A subdivision of 
this effect can even be seen in the narrowcasting world of smaller cable networks 
as evidenced by the recent South Park phenomenon.) 

In this way, the social structure of television has become triangulated. There are 
single points from which broadcast signals are transmitted out to broad 
audiences, and these audiences complete the triangle's third side by connecting 
to each other through the experiential and psychological ground of collective 
temporality. TV programming is altered to exploit this dynamic, stemming from 
the cathexis of live broadcast, its psychic charge. Season finales, TV news 
entertainment tie-ins, cross-promotional marketing, demographic targeting, home 
shopping, 900 number polling and laugh tracks all embrace, amplify and refract, 
in various ways, the very specific and powerful feeling that we participate in a 
collective "now" when we watch a television program. 

In this dimension of social structure, the Internet represents a double quantum 
leap. The audience receives and sends information in a more circular 
arrangement, and they simultaneously use the new connectivity to directly link to 
each other, in a construction that is perhaps best thought of as a three-
dimensional sphere. [space metaphor here/p] Now audiences
can elaborate upon the feeling that they occupy the same temporality and behave as a
connected culture. They can receive information and entertainment from many sources
and are themselves a source. Without reducing it to a mere amplification of television,
its easy to see how, in this respect, the Internet is television to the third power.


Digital Television and TV/Internet Convergence 

Here I shift voices and speak as an analyst of the new media industry... 
Digital Television has been called "the most important innovation in US 
broadcasting since the introduction of color TV" (LA Times). HBO's chief 
technologist Bob Zitter goes further: "The shift from analog TV to digital TV will be 
the most significant development in the digital transition to date." 
It's been my experience that we have too often in this decade framed up 
prospective developments in the new media field in a very general way and, as a 
result, we have frequently obtained very general results. Three words: Full 
Service Network. I'd like to ground this section in some detailed observations. 
The coming convergence of the Internet and TV appears to hold great promise 
for digital entertainment content development because of the combination of a 
number of factors: 

? The open-ended structure of the convergence through tributary 
developments on multiple fronts including digital broadcast television, 
broadband cable, satellite TV competition and innovation, streaming 
media over the Internet, push Internet programming and data 
broadcasting 

? The enormous creative potential inherent in linking interactivity and 
connectivity paradigms with high-resolution media delivery 

? The content and platform investment positions assumed by computer 
industry giants like Microsoft and Intel, and finally... 

? The April 1997 FCC digital television mandate in the US, dictating an 
adoption schedule and establishing the possibility of platform 
standardization. 

After almost a decade of wrestling with PC platform schizophrenia this last 
component seems especially promising: a government mandated standard for a 
cornerstone of digital entertainment with the solidity of NTSC (though, one hopes, 
without its inferiority). 

What is happening to implement DTV? 

? Pursuant to provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, on April 3, 
1997, the FCC formally initiated the transition to DTV, approving licenses 
for broadcasters that grant free parallel access to analog and digital 
spectrum during the transition, what Common Cause called "a $70 billion 
corporate welfare bonanza." 

? In exchange, the major broadcasters pledged to launch digital service at 
23 of their stations in the top 10 markets within 18 months, with network-
owned stations in the top 30 markets all going digital in 24 months. 
Based on this pledge, FCC Chair Reed Hundt estimated that by the end 
of 1999, 53% of US households will be able to receive at least three 
digital stations. Broadcasters must give up their analog stations in the 
year 2006. 

? Well, of course, having been granted the $70 billion welfare program, 
broadcasters have been quick to hedge on the timetable, appealing to 
Congress in June to delay introduction of Digital TV and extend the 
deadline for giving up analog stations. Still, according to a survey in 
January 1998 of US broadcasters (Harris Corp.), 90% of almost 500 
stations surveyed believe they will meet the FCC-mandated timetable 
and expect to have a digital signal on the air by the year 2002. 

? At first, claims were made that technology would not be refined fast 
enough to implement the mandate, but all the key technology now exists 
and new breakthroughs are being announced every week. 

? Will the installed base be there? DTV sets will be available this fall 
starting at around $3,000 to $4,000, and second generation designs are 
already in the works that will dramatically cut costs, leading to forecasts 
of one million units sold by the end of 2000. Consumer Electronics 
Manufacturers Assoc., which projects 31% TV household market 
penetration for digital television sets by 2006. Digital-to-analog converter 
boxes will also be available for a few hundred dollars so existing TVs can 
display digital transmissions, although they won't enjoy the resolution and 
all the interactivity of digital TV sets. Computers can also receive the 
digital signal, and it's estimated that 20 million PCs may be DTV 
reception-ready by the year 2000 (New Media). 

Cable digital delivery technology is coming on-line very quickly. (Cable is far and 
away the fastest distribution channel for two-way interactive content and reaches 
over two-thirds of American homes, so expect this to be a critical front for this 
stage of the digital transition.) 

? TCI recently announcing an order of five to ten million digital set-top 
boxes made by General Instruments, featuring Microsoft's Windows CE 
software and maybe also Sun's Java programming applications (it's 
unclear how both will fit into the box). GI expects to sell at least 15 million 
such boxes to cable companies in the next three to five years. 

? The top five cable companies are on "a broadband spending spree" 
(Upside), shelling out around $5 billion a year on two-way digital network 
and related upgrades. 

? The roll-out of cable broadband Internet access has begun. 200,000 
customers have signed up, and the installed base is currently growing at 
the rate of 1,000 homes per day. (Three to four million cable homes can 
now access the service.) 

Microsoft's WebTV (purchased for $425 million) and Comcast Cable deals ($1 
billion invested) have initiated a wave of related convergence-targeted platform 
investment by strategic partners and others vying for a piece of the platform. 

? Paul Allen's $2.8 billion acquisition of Marcus Cable may prove almost as 
significant as Microsoft's moves. 

? Microsoft and Intel have kissed and made up over Intercasting and are 
moving jointly to deploy enhanced broadcast through analog TV's Vertical 
Blanking Interval for the present and through some kind of DTV back 
channel in the future. 

? Phone company hats are back in the ring, with Microsoft, Compaq and 
Intel's blessing. Baby Bells are pursuing what could become a vigorous 
DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) strategy. DSL and some new wireless 
initiatives are targeted at the Internet for the present, but could compete 
with cable and offer video programming, as US West is already doing 
with the Intertainer broadband service. 

What do the DTV mandate and related infrastructural changes mean? High-
quality digital video and audio can be combined with data streams-and two-way 
interaction can be enabled via phone lines or cable-marrying the broadcast 
paradigm with the multimedia and connectivity paradigms. 

? High Definition Television, the rationale for the FCC bandwidth give-
away, and the impetus for the development of DTV, will become a reality. 

? Broadcasters will be able to multi-cast, increasing output of Standard 
Definition TV up to five times with the same bandwidth, significantly 
increasing programming choice. 

? Data transmission can be integrated into broadcasts, providing a 
synchronous multimedia experience or asynchronous data broadcasting 
and information publishing. 

? Two-way communication-via phone lines or cable-will enable a full-range 
of on-line capabilities such as on-demand programming, e-mail, 
advanced voice and visual communications, digital commerce, mixed 
mode interaction between Internet and TV programming, and other 
possibilities to be invented. 

Many obstacles, of course, stand in the way of achieving this potential. On top of 
preoccupation with technological and infrastructural issues at the expense of 
program development, DTV is currently plagued by platform confusion and 
conflict. The FCC has granted broadcasters the latitude to choose their technical 
standards, formats and business strategy. The result has been described as a 
"semi-disaster" by Sony's Howard Stringer. The four major broadcast networks 
have chosen different formats. CBS and NBC are going with 1080 line interlace, 
ABC is going with 720 progressive scan, and Fox, ever the renegade, is going 
with an Interlace format to be announced, but suspected to be only 480p, which is 
not even considered HDTV. (Progressive is heavily favored by the computer 
industry because it is compatible with existing PC standards.) All will use different 
formats for SDTV presentation, and only CBS has committed to a specific block 
of HDTV programming, 5 hours a week beginning in November. How their 
strategy for the use of enhanced TV functionality will unfold is anyone's guess, 
and it's not even clear if Congress will let broadcasters do this without paying to 
license the bandwidth. 

In addition to the network's decisions, a major layer of local choice comes into 
play. Local broadcast stations will probably mix modes-HDTV, SDTV, with some 
datacasting and two-way networking-but there's great uncertainty. According to 
the Harris survey cited earlier, 23% of broadcasters said they expect to primarily 
provide HDTV, 33% said they expect to primarily multi-cast SDTV, and 44% of 
said they have yet to define the mix. 

On the cable TV front, uncertainty also reigns. First, there is the vexing issue of 
"must carry." Although some cable companies such as Time Warner and 
MediaOne say their systems are ready to carry broadcasters' HDTV programs, 
most of the cable industry is passionately opposed to enforcement of the FCC's 
"must carry" rule with new digital signals, claiming they lack capacity and will be 
forced to drop channels. The cable companies are agitating for voluntary 
carriage, a scenario the broadcasters have dubbed, "Can't See TV." In five to ten 
years this issue will be long-forgotten, but in 1998, at the dawn of the new DTV 
age, it could substantially delay the impact of the DTV roll-out, since most homes 
get their signal through cable. Then there is the emerging battle to control the 
deployment of set-top boxes that will provide cable with its interactivity feature 
set. There are about a dozen major players vying to grab a piece of this critical 
market and each one is advancing different technology with different program 
development implications. 

Everywhere we turn in this burgeoning new front in the digital revolution-whether 
it's broadcasting, cablecasting, datacasting or netcasting-we wind up with a 
proliferation of competing and conflicting technologies and industry practices, and 
that's not taking into consideration the huge issue of competition and conflict 
between these platforms. 

Perhaps all this fuss about standards, technology and competing delivery 
platforms is just distracting us from the big picture. Do consumers really want 
DTV, and if so, what do they want it for? Forget that it cost a fortune, the last 
Interactive Television paradigm failed the "if you build it they will come" test, 
largely because it was developed without any clear ideas regarding its essential 
content. 

The research here is in conflict. 

? Studies suggest there is a lot of simultaneous use of the Internet and TV, 
with as many as 40% of on-line users saying they regularly watch TV 
while they are on-line. From this, researchers extrapolate a universe of 8-
9 million people already primed for a convergent interactive TV 
experience. Maybe. 

? But, a recent Odyssey study argues that while many people do 
simultaneously experience multiple entertainment platforms, and are 
hungry for new entertainment options, their dissatisfaction with TV stems 
from a lack of choice and control, and not the actual format of the 
programming. 

? Another study argued that with respect to HDTV, the public was just as 
interested in the overall quality of the program content as they were with 
its technical content, with Verity Group research suggesting that all 
demographic profiles except technology enthusiasts agree that overall 
quality of programming would have to improve in order for them to justify 
the purchase of a widescreen digital TV set. 

? Does the Internet + TV = Interactive TV? Will demand for high-speed 
Internet access alone be enough to drive consumer acceptance of digital 
interactive television? PC-centric players cite studies like the A.T. 
Kearney survey, which found that 63% of households expressed interest 
in accessing the Internet through their digital TVs. But others cite the 
Cable Industry's probable failure to come close to its goal of 1 million 
customers by the end of 1998, with a current growth rate of under 10% of 
market per year, as indication that Internet content is not compelling 
enough to drive the broadband roll-out by itself. 

(Yet another study demonstrated that the public can't be fully trusted to convey 
meaningful opinions about DTV because it is so poorly understood. According to 
the Verity Group, when asked to define digital television, only 12% knew it was a 
digital signal, and 58% had no idea what it was.) 

Where does all this research and analysis leave us? After much promising 
prognostication fueled by the launch of DTV, TV/Internet convergence has turned 
into a fragmented free-for-all of conflicting standards and competing platforms 
that threatens to forestall the development of interesting interactive entertainment 
content. Nevertheless, it seems equally clear that the lines of force propelling the 
convergence of the Internet and television have irresistible momentum, even if 
the timetables projected by industry and the government have been overly 
optimistic. 

>From the standpoint of the technological determinism, which the technology 
sector likes to employ to tell the stories of the digital age, DTV is posited as the 
inevitable result of technological progress directed at cultural needs. Nothing 
could be farther from the truth. As Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Joel Brinkley 
details in "Defining Vision," DTV is the serendipitous result of a series of 
opportunistic maneuvers and political machinations. US Broadcasters in the mid-
'80s latched onto the idea of HDTV in its obscure infancy because they had to 
come up with some new use of the airwaves as a scheme to prevent mobile 
communications companies from getting some of their spectrum from the FCC. 
Congress backed HDTV because of anti-Japanese sentiments-they were afraid 
that the Japanese would dominate yet another video market. Cheating, payoffs, 
political extortion and other chicanery paved the way toward the development of 
the technology as major corporations and consortia jockeyed for position in the 
race to create the new standard. Despite this sordid history, what emerged was 
truly groundbreaking, digital television. Broadcasters have been trying to qualify 
their commitment to HDTV ever since and determine how to exploit this happy 
accident, and best profit from the convergence with the Internet that DTV will 
make inevitable. Seen as a self-fulfilling prophecy, the logic of a DTV-driven 
TV/Internet convergence becomes irresistible, even if its fitfully incremental steps 
of evolution will make it hard to measure and project. 


Narrativity and Decision; Preference and Choice; Audience and Community 

When the characteristics of virtual space are discussed, the emphasis tends to be 
on ways in which the structure of physical space is re-created and manipulated 
through digital technology into an immersive environment in which we project 
ourselves, a mental landscape. Marcos Novak talks of TransArchitectures in 
terms of "transmitting the spaces of consciousness." I have to admit that I've also 
previously used this type of framework to discuss the possibilities of the new 
media, referring to the potential to create "virtual Plato's Caves." 
It seems, upon reconsideration, that one key element missing from these 
concepts is an assessment of the behavior of people within these environments. 
What do people actually do when they log on to the Internet? They read, watch 
and listen, but primarily, they make a series of decisions, choices about 
navigation, information processing and communications, and then wait for these 
choices to be realized as they download files. 

Let's revisit the dichotomy of abstract time vs. clock time which has been posited 
by this paper: abstract time has to do with the spatialization of temporal 
relationships, and encompasses the polarities of the calendar/clock and the light 
year/cosmic absolute. Experiential time has to do with the perceived duration of 
"the present" and in this analysis is seen as having become, through television, 
an arena of marketing-metered narrativity, now giving way to intervals of 
decision-making and data exchange on the Internet. 

The key is to think about how the Internet or any digital interactive networked 
technology produces immersion, a compelling and complete experience within a 
world with its own persuasive logic. The Internet produces an immersive 
experience by displacing the timelessness of virtual space with the dynamics of 
hyperlink-enabled decision intervals. While watching TV we are acutely aware of 
the half-hour increments-we can even tell time by assessing a TV program's state 
of narrative resolution-but on the Internet the clock slides into the background as 
we get lost in the links. Stereotypes of geeks dulled by the blue luster of monitor 
illumination who have allowed days on end to slip away come to mind, but we've 
all experienced this loss of place in time while surfing on the Net. The Internet 
draws us into a heightened decisional mode, as a chain of question-and-answer, 
call-and-response, want-and-satisfaction events transforms an abstract 
framework into the human realm of interactive behavior. 

Where do you want to go today? The development of consumer persuasion 
techniques on-line has advanced but still lags dramatically behind the accelerated 
growth of raw computing power. On-line marketing is in its infancy: TV techniques 
have adapted poorly, interactive strategies have just started to be incorporated, 
and banners do less than billboards did almost a century ago. We are therefore 
pushed into making decisions with this technology faster than new preferences 
can be formed through this technology, with the deficit often filled by random 
interactions offering the techno-fetishistic pleasures of machine play. 
Microsoft, followed by other technology companies, broke the cardinal rule of ad 
copywriting-never end with a question mark-because this is a realm with new 
rules and new dynamics. "Where do you want to go today?" they ask because 
computer processing power, doubling every 18 months according to Moore's law, 
is increasing faster than the evolution of demand for computing power, so 
consumers are being asked to reconsider their needs and to please come up with 
new ones. Intel is engaged in a major effort to stimulate demand for processing 
speed by funding development of memory hogging applications, because Moore's 
law has placed computer chip companies far ahead of the curve of consumer 
demand. 

In the computer world, then, there is more capability to (inter)act than causality. 
This is the opposite of television, which attempts to drive consumer behavior by 
overwhelming the preference formation processes with marketing stimulus, giving 
great cause to choose, but forced to rely on actions outside its immediate sphere 
of influence (with a few exceptions, like ordering pizza, which employ phone 
response). 

The combination of these two modalities in a TV/Internet convergence scenario 
would seem to be a corporate wet dream, wherein consumers can act out their 
media-motivated fantasies inspired by the established marketing dynamics of TV 
through nearly instantaneous e-commerce interactions and on-demand 
programming consumption capabilities of the Internet. For the purposes of the 
present discussion, I'd like to explore what this means with respect to collective 
temporality and virtual communities. 

Much has been made of the distinction between audiences and communities in 
the new media discourse, as the Young Turks of the digital interactive future seek 
to define the unique inherent properties of the new media and imbue them with 
special attributes. (Each generation seems destined to repeat their predecessors 
mistakes and look to media platforms for their formal secrets as though this is 
where we'll find the hidden instructions telling us what to do with them. The 
answers come instead from looking at the relational issues: how new technology 
combines with the dynamics of existing media and social patterns to yield 
opportunities shaped by corporate interest, but defined by artistic vision and 
cultural purpose.) It is said that while TV has huge audiences, these collections of 
physically isolated viewers do not a community make because they cannot 
express their participation in a collective identity, except by association, and they 
cannot influence the directions and outcomes of the presentations they witness. 
The Internet offers almost limitless potential for the expression of identity, and 
possibilities to participate in the patterns and outcomes of presentations limited 
only by creative issues. It's very easy to see how the spherical networking, as we 
earlier defined it, is becoming a major cultural force through the interconnection of 
audiences. But, right now the Internet is organized more as a loose confederation 
of solitary souls in solipsistic isolation within self-referential decision-making 
behavior patterns. The Internet defines time as a series of decision intervals, 
which tends to take people out of any collective temporal context and into their 
own personal routines and idiosyncrasies. For that reason-and despite all the 
heightened rhetoric about the potent new political constituency of Cyberspace-it 
feels more like a personalized information and communications utility that a public 
domain. 

Chat is the major exception and its significance as an Internet phenomenon 
supports the general point. In its present manifestation, Chat is an awkward, 
cumbersome and limited method of communication and yet its ability to create a 
connected present for groups of otherwise unrelated people at a given time has 
made it among the most common uses of Internet services like AOL, more than 
all AOL's proprietary content combined. 

In a scenario similar to television, the Internet will truly transform society when it 
comes to terms with the fact that just as significant as what resides on any 
remote server is the relationship between the people who have logged onto that 
server in order to share an experience, a palpable present. Bringing audiences 
together is the first step in building communities, and it's a step that can't be 
skipped. TV's ability to produce a collective present is perhaps the most important 
audience- and community-building dynamic of any contemporary medium and it 
is this property upon which the Internet must build. Engineering collective time 
constructs on-line thus becomes one of the most promising opportunities of the 
coming Internet/TV convergence. 

As quoted at the outset of this discussion, the great visionary of the electronic 
age, Marshall McLuhan, wrote, "For tribal man, space was the uncontrollable 
mystery. For technological man it is time that occupies the same role." We long 
for connection and communion, and creating a present in which common 
experience is palpable is one powerful way in which we connect through culture 
and ritualize our participation in collective consciousness. This sense of 
community doesn't come from sharing a space nearly as much as from sharing a 
time, a cultural moment. Any viable construct of digital community must consider 
the implications of the coming convergence of the Internet and television, and 
specifically must embrace these issues of temporality as critical cultural premises, 
or risk relegation to the realm of merely academic exercise. 

---

Michael Nash 
Michael Nash has extensive experience in the creative, business and cultural 
aspects of new media through his work as entrepreneur, publisher, producer and 
curator. Atlantic Unbound noted in June 1997, "Michael Nash has held industry-
shaping positions in digital media almost as long as there has been such a thing 
as digital media." Nash recently served as President and CEO of Inscape, a new 
media entertainment company he formed in 1994 through a general partnership 
with Home Box Office and the Warner Music Group. Recognized as a leading 
publisher and developer of cutting-edge titles -- distinguished by innovative 
content, graphics and design -- Inscape received acclaim for its track record and 
vision under Nash's leadership. In addition to critical praise (highest ratings were 
awarded by publications such as Computer Life, Multimedia World and New 
Media), Inscape's products garnered numerous awards: The Resident's Bad Day 
on the Midway received the 1996 Rommie for "Title of the Year" and The Dark 
Eye was named the 1996 International Digital Media Awards' Winner in the 
"Games/Entertainment" category. 

Prior to founding Inscape, Nash oversaw the Voyager Company's award-winning 
Criterion Collection of interactive laserdiscs from 1991 to 1994, working with 
leading film directors such as Robert Altman, Terry Gilliam, Louis Malle and 
Nicolas Roeg. From 1989 through 1991, Nash served as Media Arts Curator of 
the Long Beach Museum of Art. There he organized critically acclaimed 
exhibitions that toured major museums throughout the US including the Museum 
of Fine Arts (Boston), the Walker Art Center and the Wexner Center for the Visual 
Arts, and he developed an innovative series of exhibitions devoted to digital 
interactive media. 

Nash has authored over 100 essays, articles and reviews about the media arts, 
contemporary culture, and the digital revolution. He has made presentations at 
some of the new media industry's leading business conferences, and lectures at 
cultural institutions such as the American Film Institute, the Lincoln Center, the 
Museum of Contemporary Art (San Diego) and the Sundance Film Festival. 

For more information: http://www.concentric.net/~Mnash/ 

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo {AT} bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} bbs.thing.net