Project Timeline 2005–2010

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A Day in 2018: #7

Categories: General, Stories Composed by OTB Participants
Date: April 2008

“That’s great” Pat said. “Now let’s stick that into Ithaca and reconvene tomorrow.”

Universal assent greeted the suggestion. It was a normal videoconference: Pat Quinn in Alice Springs, Alan in Sydney, and four others in Helsinki, Dakota, Dublin and Novosibirsk. For the past 2 hours, documents and videos had been flashing round the world to great effect.. Pat grinned that wide smile that Alan had first seen when she led a walk along the Larapinta Trail from Alice Springs to Mt Sonder. Now three years on, the project they’d discussed was on its way: a massive cross-platform three dimensional virtual world of indigenous knowledge and story from around the globe. He sat back happily. He hadn’t created it but he had been able to help it to fruition.

Ithaca was software developed by Pat and colleagues around the world which would enable them to map, search, illustrate and link the founding stories of every civilisation known: to tease out the strands, whether they were common or unique. Ithaca…the end of a long journey through time, space and meaning. Ithaca, Google Clouds and pattern-recognition would, if all went well, capture and share in every audio-visual format including games, much of the spiritual and physical story of civilisation’s origins.
When the National Indigenous Television Network was established in 2007, it was almost a throwaway gesture by Government. But those who ran it had seen the opportunity to drive straight past “ just Television” as an outcome and reached for the full power of new media. Some ten years later, young creators like Pat, an indigenous NITV Producer, were leading the world in exploring cyberspace.
Not surprisingly NITV had become the most creative content platform in Australia and particularly after the SBS had privatised itself into an outmoded commercial model and become almost meaningless. By definition NITV understood the power of small groups and big ideas. Now NITV was seen as one of the world’s key content creators/aggregators and was backed by many of the world’s best thinkers including the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico (where Cormac McCarthy was now emeritus Professor of Global Doom Scenarios).

Alan woke his phone. Like most people he used it far more than his computer. Voicing the P button projected the screen content onto any surface and he talked it through messaging, diary and a quick visual check that the kids were safely back home. After filing the videoconference in the handset memory, he hurried down to his car. It welcomed him and told him it needed servicing.

The audio news analysis that the car had been downloading and sifting all day accompanied him home and he couldn’t help reflecting on how little depth there was to coverage of the federal election. Endless opinions but almost nothing to help you set a framework within which to make judgments: to build your own context. The ABC wasn’t a great help as the majority of its output was too locally focused with a bit too much of the audience in the driver’s seat. Sadly, the slow demise of Radio National had sounded the death knell for discursive and informed comment on the National Platform. Years ago he’d have used the newspapers but they could no longer afford the range and depth of informed comment that had played such a useful democratic role. Free TV and all the a/v platforms were no less short-form now than they had been ten years ago. Just as well the Leader of the Opposition was entirely forgettable!

His house was, as usual, virtually silent. A sure sign that the two kids were home. Each one in their own room exploring a community anywhere other than here! Earphones in, platforms on and all systems go. The eldest daughter had been an early adopter of “Second Life, the Next Generation” and it had morphed its way into something both valuable and unsettling. On the positive side she was running a weekly one hour global videotheque with the assistance of some of her madder friends. School approved because she got to speak to people all over the world and put a different social or political agenda into each week: maybe context isn’t a problem after all? Wisdom of the masses? On the negative side in this virtual world she was one of a group engaged in a sort of mini-tribal war. Were it a complete game, Alan would have worried less, but the absolute identification that kids had with their avatars blurred the gap between reality and play…and he could see the impact on her behavioural development.. It’s the problem with not having to adapt one’s presence or language on the web in the way that you have to in real life (unless you enjoy a good bruising).

Daughter two would, for sure, be deep in the internals of some series that had premiered on the Macquarie big-screen site last week. Premiere meant that all 12 episodes played out in a single 48 hour period on line and on-air: really big event stuff and it worked for both media. In this case the premiere was sponsored by a well-known food chain which provided pre-packed meals so that you could just hunker down and only break when you had to. Kids loved the whole event and particularly the side bar activities ruthlessly exploiting their multi-tasking skills, not least by offering large prizes in domestic and global competitions. Every now and then, when she was scoring some particular triumph, she’d drive her parents mad by blasting it over every other screen in the house. But she never did so for long enough to let anyone know how she’d corrupted the network.

After he’d been greeted in chirpy fashion by the toaster, the computer and the fridge, he settled back to a glass of wine and a long chat with his wife who was at a conference a thousand kilometres away. She was almost life-size on the mega screen in the lounge-room that had once been the centre of home-life…and was now possibly the loneliest place in it. The news punched up and they discussed the odd story. Then he remembered Pat’s closing comments from the afternoon and played it to her from the handheld. Until its battery expired.

After dinner (a momentary meeting with his offspring), and some more chirpy banter from various bits of hardware (or was this the onset of schizophrenia?) the screen burst into life with some personalised suggestions for sponsored programs as the latest bunch of advertisers exploited what they knew of his tastes (first schizophrenia and now paranoia). The Government had promised to do something about this (like the marketing calls of a decade ago) but as with most things digital, by the time they’d worked a fix the problem had moved goalposts.

The digital white screen in the kitchen chirped away to itself as his wife wirelessed in some rude comments on his choice of shirts and the bottle shop asked for an OK on tomorrow’s delivery. Tick that!
Relevant parts of the screen were linked to each of the family’s phones which were updated live. The finance quadrant had been overseeing stock prices and suggested he ring his broker as seven prices had changed beyond his preset of 3%. Tomorrow his phone would also suggest he do so.

Back on the big screen he scanned the range of “stuff” he could watch. Freeview on-air and on-line (now an amalgamation of 2 of the old 3 FTA networks) had the usual swag of live audience shows, domestic and global interactive games (networked games on every platform were getting bigger and bigger), telenovellas, Bollywood extravaganzas and a couple of interesting-looking premieres. Formats and global production deals were the name of the game and Freeview operated very much as a content Publisher rather than as a Producer.

Sport was there but they now charged on all platforms for anything other than the basic play of the game…gold coverage was where you got the majority of the really good content surrounding the game. The third channel was now within the Telstra brand and delivering niche content very successfully.
The ABC had expanded its platforms but was finding it increasingly difficult to fund them. The result was a veneer of what they hoped to be. Until they treated their coproducers like partners rather than sub-contractors, it would go on being that way. Ironically they were the last of the “studio” model. Not by any means all their fault, Government and Industry had consistently failed to get national structural answers to the big question “how can we turn talent into hits and hits into exports” The one place the ABC did brilliantly was in Education.

The truth for all of them was that scheduled television now represented only about 25% of the revenue stream for a/v content. Free TV was front of house but not the driver.

Beyond that you paid. Either Foxtel (with its fully developed EPG) or Apple were the usual options. Foxtel with its true VoD and Apple for that and for the almighty long tail of global content which it and Google had bought up as part of their joint-venture: servers, services, search and screens…they had it wrapped up.
So, he made his selection and the microbiller chirped him a happy thanks.

Sergeant Bilko it was. In the face of the flood of “new” formats, black and white had become the new black: retro was definitely “le tout”.

He slept well, secure in the knowledge that tomorrow night they were going to the theatre…and that meant seeing real creativity, originality and risk….and you didn’t even have to search for it. Deeply asleep, he chirped.