We live in amazing times.
Current technology allows us to access the Web and experience more audio and video than ever thought imaginable.
We can experience all this with limited effort, relatively little money, and do so just about anywhere in the world.
Also, the devices used to enjoy the enormous artistic, creative, and intellectual output are incredibly ubiquitous and small.
These devices can easily fit on your desk, in your lap, or in your hands. Some devices can even fit in your pocket.
Therefore, within your pocket resides the power to…
- …access more music than was ever available to the royals that commissioned works from Mozart, Beethoven, or Bach…
- …access more movies than were ever available to all moguls from Hollywood’s golden age…
- …access more books and information than could fill a dozen Libraries of Alexandria.
Today’s televisions and movie theaters offer spectacular viewing experiences like high definition flat screens and IMAX theaters. And modern sound systems, such as those used at live concerts, produce extremely high quality music and mixes. And that is the one place where you can expect to hear truly outstanding sound, a live music concert.
When and How Did This Amazing Start?
When did the road to this amazing technology start?
Some will say the journey started the moment humans began using tools. Others will say it started with the invention of the scientific method.
To avoid documenting every scientific discovery, maybe we should start with something a bit more recent and pertinent.
Let’s start with the one device that, in a way, started it all…
Long before they got smart, they were just called “telephones” and they did one thing.
The telephone is important because it contains three inventions crucial to the development of audio and video devices that utilize the Web. Those three inventions are the speaker, microphone, and ability to transmit information over great distances.
Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone in 1876. In the next couple of years, came the inventions of the phonograph, the movie projector, and the Kodak camera.
The inventions of this era, especially those mass marketed to consumers were analog and mechanical in nature.
At the turn of the 20th century your experience with audio and visual would have been extremely limited.
Movies were just starting to use editing and movable camera shots. They were also silent and black and white.
Meanwhile, the music industry was undergoing its first format wars. Both discs and phonographic cylinders were being marketed to the public and would continue to be well into the 1920s.
As for the internet…
…Well, the telegraph (transmission of text and symbols over long distances) was more than 60 years old, but the wireless transmission of information was still in its infancy. Radio wouldn’t become a mass medium until the 1920s.
Computers of the day were mechanical and analog.
Let’s jump ahead to the 1950s. Technology was still analog but more electrical than mechanical.
Vinyl LPs and record players were ubiquitous and affordable.
Shooting and viewing home movies was feasible for the middle class.
TV was on its way to becoming the most influential appliance in the home—color TV came in 1953.
Computers had entered adolescence—the digital computer had been invented in 1941—but they were enormous. The Web was still generations away.
Analog vs. Digital
Analog is a system with a signal that’s continuous and varied. In a digital system, the signal only takes two levels.
When we skip ahead to the 1990s, we also skip into the digital age. Devices that brought consumers audio and video had grown smaller, clearer, and more portable.
Compact disc players were being worn on belts, people were swapping their VHS tapes for DVDs, and laptops started to compete with personal computers.
Perhaps more significantly, people outside of hobbyists and technicians started to surf this new thing called the “World Wide Web.”
Internet vs. World Wide Web
The internet and the World Wide Web are often used interchangeably. They are actually two different things. The internet is a network of networks. The Web is a way of accessing information on the internet.
On the eve of the 21st century, the .mp3 was created. This was the rehearsal dinner for what would become the marriage of audio, video, and the Web. The .mp3 format, along with faster internet speeds, allowed for the transfer of music via the internet.
Logically, video followed.
The 21st Century
The seminal year for audio and video on the Web was 2005. The year YouTube launched.
YouTube allows users to post and watch videos.
With YouTube, one can shoot, edit, and upload a video to the internet that has the potential to be seen by millions.
Although the technology wasn’t there in 2005, you can now do all of the above with your smartphone. Add another “power” that can fit into your pocket.
In previous decades, to do the same thing you needed a physical format and multiple pieces of equipment. Your audience wasn’t millions, but whoever you could squeeze in front of the screen or the television set.
A couple of years after YouTube launched, Netflix began offering its streaming service. Similar services soon followed. These services allowed users, for a small fee, to watch movies, television shows, and special videos on a myriad of web-enabled devices.
Streaming changed the way we consumed audio and video. It also meant you no longer needed to “collect” media.
Everything you ever wanted to watch or listen to is perpetually on demand just waiting for you to access it.
Think about it…
…in little more than a hundred years, our relationship with audio and video mediums went from nearly non-existent to nearly omnipotent.
Technology has rendered recorded music practically worthless. Conversely, it has done the opposite to live music. Concert tickets are more valuable than ever.
Anyone with a computer can record and distribute a song or album. It takes real talent to perform live. That’s why fans are willing to pay more for the experience.
Furthermore, technology has improved the concert itself.
Live music not only sounds better, but artists are able to augment performances with video screens, projections, light shows, and lasers.
Also, the Web has positively affected the ticket-buying process. Mainly, concert tickets can be purchased online.
With the secondary ticket market and its plethora of reliable and secure online market places, concerts are never sold out.
The secondary ticket market allows fans to buy tickets to any show even those that are “sold out.” It also provides a safe place to sell their unwanted inventory.
Many fear that the Web is killing the human language. Social networking sites like Twitter and the act of texting are eroding users’ mastery of English.
Yet, while the word “literally” continues to be misused, the Web and related technologies have made it possible for everyone with a smartphone, computer, or e-reader to be a click away from just about every book of consequence.
The Web also allows burgeoning writers to self-publish. A writer can sell thousands of copies without ever having their novel printed.
Audio, video, and the Web have usurped analog technology but they haven’t cast them to history’s dustbin.
Instead, analog has become the purview of collectors and hobbyist. Watching a projected film, listening to a vinyl record, developing your own photographs have become events. They’re special, moments to be savored, and something to do with friends.
Yes, analog is no longer embraced by the masses, but it is embraced by enthusiasts. They embrace analog for its charm, warmth, and novelty.
What does the future hold for audio, video, and the Web? Obviously, clarity will improve, speeds will get faster, and media libraries will increase.
What else will happen?
Is 3-D in our future? What about holograms? Virtual reality?
Or maybe the next major innovation won’t be an external device but internal improvements? Perhaps technology will better our ears and eyes so we can experience audio and video in hitherto unimaginable ways? Look below for the timeline of audio and video inventions.
Timeline of Audio/Video Inventions*
1876 – Telephone
1877 – Phonograph
1877 – Carbon microphone
1894 – Movie projector
1904 – Vacuum tube
1912 – Electronic amplification by vacuum tube
1927 – First feature film using synchronized dialogue
1928 – Magnetic tape
1928 – First electronic television demonstration
1928 – First television station
1931 – Electric guitar
1935 – Color film
1935 – Reel-to-Reel tape recorder
1941 – First electromechanical programmable, fully automatic digital computer
1948 – LP vinyl record
1958 – Optical video recording technology
1962 – Cassette tape
1964 – 8-track tape
1965 – Super 8mm film
1965 – Desktop personal computer
1972 – VCR
1974 – The word “internet” is coined
1975 – Betamax
1975 – Digital camera
1977 – The first successful mass marketed personal computers (Commodore PET, Apple II)
1978 – Laserdisc
1978 – Sony Walkman
1981 – Laptop
1982 – Commodore 64
1982 – Compact Disc
1982 – Internet
1987 – Digital Audio Tape
1989 – World Wide Web
1994 – Smartphone
1995 – DVD
1995 – .mp3
1996 – First public HDTV broadcast in the United States
1998 – Digital light processing
1999 – Napster
1999 – Netflix
2000 – Blu-ray
2001 – iTunes
2001 – iPod
2005 – YouTube
2007 – Hulu
2007 – Kindle
2007 – iPhone
2009 – Vevo
2010 – iPad
*Year refers to when technology was invented and/or released to public.