Media Muse, July 2016

media_F_R A light-hearted look at the media, by Manakau’s gnarled commentator Tom Frewen

If God wanted us to have convergence in the fruit space he would have given us the banaptom. What is convergence? It is a word used by media people and politicians to show they’re cool with mobile phones and apps.

a word used by media people and politicians to show they’re cool with mobile phones and apps.

But what does it mean? Convergence is the merging of technologies, devices, ideas, owners and in fact anything vaguely linked to media, communications, telephones and broadband, all coming together in the mobile phone and apps and devices (tablets, mainly, but also laptops and for the stay-at-homes, desktop computers).

And the banaptom? What is the banaptom? A banaptom, if it existed, would be a small fruit shaped like a banana but grown like apples on trees as a versatile ingredient in salads and sandwiches like a tomato. It would also have a small screen, tiny keyboard, Bluetooth, wi-fi and a reversing camera.

What would it taste like? Fruit salad? No, here’s the thing: fruit in fruit salads retain their individual flavours. A banaptom would be more like a smoothie. Blended together the banana, apple and tomato create a whole new flavour. So, not a banana, not an apple, not a tomato, but something completely new — like the mobile phone. Not a newspaper, a television, or a radio but whole new media smoothie, a fourth medium.

Media people and politicians, however, still think of the phone as a salad. In the end, however we use our phones — for texting, Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Candy Crush, video on-demand, YouTube, Stuff — we are limited to using our eyes and our ears. Through the eyes, the choice boils down to words and pictures; through the ears, it’s words and music.

You can read words and listen to music at the same time but, unless you’re some kind of freak, you can’t read words and simultaneously listen to different words. The brain’s decoder can only deal with one channel at a time. You can have music on while you read. Music goes to the heart to stir your emotions, words go to the brain to engage your thoughts.

Choosing between words and pictures is also influenced by time and place. You do not, for instance, want to be watching pictures while driving home from work, or while in the shower or in the garden. This is something that the public broadcaster, formerly known as Radio New Zealand, does not understand. Suppose you want to know how much some singlet collector paid for the one that Peter Snell wore at the 1954 Tokyo Olympics. With time on your hands, you click on the video of John Campbell interviewing Sir Peter who is represented by a picture of a cellphone. Campbell is looking straight at the studio camera and, with the professional sincerity you’d expect in an overly unctuous usher in a funeral parlour, is saying: “Yeah, it speaks volumes about you though, and your humility.” My immediate thought was that he was talking to me. After all, he seemed to be looking at me. Probably he was looking at a screen with the picture of a cellphone. But for a minute there I thought it must be all about me as Campbell continued: “I mean there is stuff that money can’t buy, right?” I’m thinking, apart from 62-year-old black singlets? But Campbell was going deeper. “Respect and decency, and that’s your reputation isn’t it?” By now I was convinced that I’d been singled out, finally, by some magic of the internet.

If radio had been invented after television we’d all be praising its advantages, particularly its portability, speed, companionship and convenience.

But then Campbell was replaced by the picture of the cellphone, leaving me not just disillusioned but a more than a little pissed off at wasting time watching the video when I could have been doing something while listening to it on the radio. If radio had been invented after television we’d all be praising its advantages, particularly its portability, speed, companionship and convenience.

Bemoaning the difficulties in sorting the wheat from the chaff in the vast range of programmes available for downloading and streaming off the internet, The Spectator’s radio columnist Kate Chisholm wrote in the June 11 issue: “There’s no equivalent to the simple switching of a button and that instant connection, our attention held, communication created, imagination fed. “You have to work hard to find a podcast that has edge, knowledge, aural style: all you can do is research online, picking up tips on Twitter or Facebook, and listening to a lot of duds.”

That’s why the mobile phone, which can be used as a radio receiver, cannot replace the radio as broadcast over the airwaves. As Kate Chisholm says: “It’s hard to make a serendipitous discovery by surfing the web.”

The same applies to newspapers, magazines, and free-to-air television. They all expose your eyes and ears to stuff you might otherwise never have come across, including vital information that you must have to make an informed choice when you next go into a polling booth or your local supermarket.