The DNA of Information1

When All Media Are Bits


Better and more efficient delivery of what already exists is what most media executives think and talk about in the context of being digital. But like the Trojan horse, the consequence of this gift will be surprising. Wholly new content will emerge from being digital, as will new players, new economic models, and a likely cottage industry of information and entertainment providers.

When all media is digital--because bits are bits--two fundamental and immediate results will be observed.

First, bits commingle effortlessly. They start to get mixed up and can be used and reused together or separately. The mixing of audio, video, and data is called multimedia; it sounds complicated, but is nothing more than commingled bits.

Second, a new kind of bit is born--a bit that tells you about the other bits. These new bits are typically "headers," which are well known to newspaper reporters who file "slugs" (which we never see) to identify a story. Such headers are also familiar to scientific authors who are asked to provide key words with their journal articles. These header bits can be a table of contents or a description of the data that follow. On your CD today, you have simple headers that allow you to skip from song to song and, in some cases, get more data about the music. These bits are not visible or audible but tell you, your computer, or a special-purpose entertainment appliance about the signal.

These two phenomena, commingled bits and bits-about-bits, change the media landscape so thoroughly that concepts like video-on-demand and shipping electronic games down your local cable are just trivial applications--the tip of a much more profound iceberg. Think about the consequences of a broadcast television show as data which includes a computer-readable description of itself. You could record based on content, not time of day or channel. Or, what about a single digital description that can generate a program in audio, video, or textual form at the receiver? And if moving these bits around is so effortless, what advantage would the large media companies have over you and me?

Being digital begs such questions. It creates the potential for new content to originate from a whole new combination of sources.

(p. 18)

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