By WILSON da SILVA
IT’S OFFICIAL - the end of the world is nigh. A contagion is spreading across the planet, and it will devour all who stand in its path. It will likely spare no-one. Its victims - jobs, companies, whole industries even - will buckle under its onslaught. Its name is “Convergence”.
Nicholas Negroponte, director of the renowned Media Lab and a guru of electronic commerce, has been harping about it for years. Former Apple Computer chief executive John Sculley warned three years ago that it would be big, big, big. And now, the most detailed global survey of the entertainment, media and communications technologies has said it is finally happening.
Not only is it here, but it is already changing industry, according to the Entertainment, Media and Communications Forecast 1997, produced by consultants Price Waterhouse and the crack team of forecasters at the World Technology Centre in Menlo Park, California.
“The current state of convergence places the world at the crux of enormous change,” says Ira Carlin, executive vice president of McCann-Erickson Worldwide, quoted in the report.
Industries that were once separated by chasms of difference and that evolved independently their own systems of management and control - such as computers, publishing, distribution, telecommunications, consumer electronics - are suddenly clashing together. In evolutionary terms, it’s as if the continents were re-uniting, and species that developed is isolation are coming into conflict. The only thing that certain is that nothing will survive unchanged.
“Similar to the primordial pond from which living matter evolved, today we have a great technological pond from which the future will evolve,” says Carlin. “When we start adding flashes of innovation to the technological pond, new things start precipitating out of the solution . . . The future ain’t what it used to be.”
The report, released last week, seeks to map out the architecture of the rapidly emerging digital age. It is based on hundreds of interviews with experts in every sector of the so-called “EMC industries” (entertainment, media and communications), as well as the technological assessments of the report’s authors.
It forecasts that convergence will dissolve industry distinctions and lead to a massive shake-out in them; that it will shift the patterns in which people live and work. Services will be more personalised, more efficiently created and delivered directly to the home. New patterns of communication and information consumption will emerge.
The Internet, which is growing at a phenomenal pace, will become the preferred vehicle for networking. It will carry everything from electronic mail to banking. But this explosion in demand will severally test the Internet infrastructure.
Finally, it forecasts a sea change in the power balance between technologists and content providers such as writers, filmmakers, photographers and other artists. Whereas many multimedia companies were tripping over themselves getting product out on to the market, with little concern for the best content - because of the difficulty of clearing copyrights - they are now realising that it is the content that brings the customers.