Wednesday, January 03, 1996

Content

At this very moment there is a search under way, a mad, desperate search, a search every bit as crazed, driven and misguided as the one instigated against Dr. Richard Kimble. Out there in the darkness, maybe down a manhole, or up a tree, "content" is hiding. He may lurk breathlessly in a vault in Abbey Road, like The Beatles Anthology, or in the dankest corners of Shepherd's Bush, like the programming of UK Gold, but wherever he is, the US Marshal will not sleep until this fugitive has been run to earth.

It is all very well, it seems, to have palm sized silver disks that can carry 600 megabytes of information. It may be worthy of note that European publishing giants are sprouting electronic wings, or that even RTE Radio I now has 24 hours of medium every day. But we now need something that can be converted into zeroes and ones and siphoned into all these new media something that can be sent ad astra and bounced back to a deep dish near you, something anything that can be called "content".

For it is a truth universally acknowledged that a global entertainment conglomerate with multimedia ambitions must be in search of "software content". Now that legislation which once enforced a legal separation between "content" and "carriage" is either being struck off or placed under attack Marshal McLuhans much misunderstood aphorism "the medium is the message" has a new and depressing significance.

Take the typical television advertisement for a multimedia information product. A young child and an elder snivel over a snapping and popping CDROM about all the animals in the sea, or all the animals which might tear off your small limbs if you ever left your bedroom. The ad is not, of course, in the end about the animals, or about the educational possibilities of digital technology, it is about buying in to the future, it is about gulping down the elixir of eternal youth to a soundtrack of dolphin quacks.

Look closely The copywriter may sheepishly assert that owning this machine will bring the sights and sounds of lions, tigers and dissected human bodies into the home, but what the blipvert actually says, it's latent content if you like, is that "content" has no importance. What you need to share life everlasting is this delivery system, this container, this medium.

Obviously, it is necessary to disguise this reality. "Content", after all, continues to exert an atavistic fascination that is extremely effective when it comes to selling hardware. "Content" is the perfect lie, the one that will let us believe that somewhere, buried deep in the heart of the machine code, there is a reason why. Give it up.

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