Cyber-Yak (Don't Look Back!)

or, The Message is the Medium

By David Andrew and Jerry Goldman

Sequence: Volume 31, Number 2
Release Date: March/April 1996

Professor Jumber Okruashvili stumbled in from a heavy downpour and stared at the fluorescent corridors of the campus computing lab. He timidly poked his head into each dimly lit room. To his amazement he found row after row of nearly motionless young people. Their faces were illuminated by an eerie phosphorescent glow and barely a whisper passed between their lips when they spoke. They were engrossed, mesmerized, tantalized by the objects of their attention. They were captives, captivated and hard at work at . . . something, but what?

As Professor O. approached a young woman, he could see over her shoulder a kaleidoscope of images, text, sound and motion. She appeared to be reading something, then listening, then watching, then clicking with a mouse . . . She seemed entirely engrossed. It was as if she were participating in some form of ritual . . . Yes, she was learning! Professor O. moved closer. He began to piece together the words on the screen, Dredging Digital Walden. "I've been published!" he thought to himself. "After all this time, someone has finally published my multimedia project!" The woman clicked a large button marked, "About." The screen then flashed, Dredging Digital Walden by the late Professor Jumber . . . . "What? Wait, I'm dead! NNNNOOOOooooooooo!"

Professor O. woke with such a start that he catapulted his dog Fritz off the bed and across the room. Professor O. clutched his chest. "The horror! The horror!" he said. "I will never be published! . . . Fritz, where are you?"

If you have been following the saga of Professor Jumber Okruashvili in the last two issues of Educom Review, by now you have realized a recurring theme. First, we believe that multimedia is an important tool for the future of education. Second, we have found that, when it comes to the current information revolution, many educators, and certainly most publishers and content providers, are caught like deer in the headlights of an on-coming tractor-trailer rig, barreling down the hot asphalt of the information superhighway. If you fall into the latter category, the time has come for you to make a choice: either jump on board the multimedia express or get out of its way!

Let's assume that you have made the choice to get underway and you are looking for a publisher for your latest and greatest multimedia production (a fate to which Jumber seems to have been eternally damned). To assist you, we offer the following catch phrases to pique your attention. Jumber's counsel: if you should hear any of these quotations from a publisher, run like the wind.

"Sure. We'd like to publish a multimedia."

Publish a multimedia? No misprint or typo here. Jumber heard this line early in his quest, and it still gets some airtime these days. Be wary of those who glide too glibly through the cyber-lexicon. As they say, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, read the new media reports in the New York Times and think they're experts." If buzz words are in the air, be sure they are flown correctly and in moderation.

"We're working on our policy for electronic rights."

That's nice. Jumber is also working on a way to domesticate bees. Wake up! It's 1996. Be wary of the publisher who is just now shaping its first electronic rights policy. The time has passed for amateurs. Even some "seasoned" providers have fashioned policies that make absolutely no sense. Professor O. locked horns with one such group, pestering the organization with regular e-mail messages and phone calls in a valiant but futile effort to clear video rights. The company finally formulated a per unit licensing fee for its few minutes of video that exceeded the targeted retail price of the CD! Jumber's counsel: make sure to read the fine print or you might get stung.

"Your project has come to us at the right time because we're thinking of establishing an electronic publishing division."

Sure. I'd love to be one of the first Russian cosmomutts shot into space. If the press director is still thinking about this matter, our advice is to head for the exit. Publishing is now in the throes of a paradigm shift. Apprehensive about the future, most publishers opt for an incremental strategy. The press computer geek gets the multimedia assignment as if he has some special knowledge. In Jumber's experience, the job goes to the person who reads Wired magazine, not to the person with the clearest vision and the most competence.

"Macs are dead. We're investing in PC projects only. Besides we still have plenty of DOS users out there."

Wrong, wrong and wrong. We have entered the era of cross-platform environments. The World Wide Web is the great equalizer. CD-ROMs are certainly not dead, but, compared to the dynamic possibilities of the Internet, they are showing their age. In any event, the future of instructional technology or information access will not be held to any one operating system. Companies like Netscape, Sun Microsystems, Apple Computer and Macromedia will see to that. Even Microsoft, in announcing that it is retooling its online service to rely on the Web, has bowed to this cross-platform movement. Still, Jumber finds that Macs are easier to use and generate more quality multimedia applications than the competition. Proof, you ask? Voyager. Jumber rests his case.

"We're not in the entertainment business, we're in the book business."

No, you're not. If you are publishing educational and scholarly materials, you are in the information business. Too many publishers forget this fundamental fact. The granddaddy of them all, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, forgot this and where are they today? In today's market the prize goes to those who can provide the right information at the right time in the right way at the right price. The message is the medium. Welcome to the revolution.

David Andrew is a multimedia developer with The Revere Group in Northbrook,
Illinois. [email protected]

Jerry Goldman is a political scientist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
[email protected]

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