When chemical elements combine, the compound that results can show properties strikingly different from those of its components. This has been the way with computer technology. Over the years, the computer has been inducing reactions and producing combinations that change past patterns and herald new forms.

From its awesome growth, one might conclude that the computer has reached adulthood. But, it is still an infant in terms of human sensory development. After all, the computer can barely talk or touch. It is still a silent machine. Its recognition of human speech is halting and visual perception faulty. The combination of the computer with audio-visual communication has dramatically changed the scene for both. The computer and television cultures are now finding areas of mutual cooperation and fresh synergies. Today, the computer through multimedia projects, is found romancing with television, music, photography and other artistic media. The possibilities they open are immense that the entire learning process in every environment is posed for a dramatic leap. The experience is unique – much like utilizing the flexibility of a pin-up board on which all sorts of information can be pinned and seen together with sound and music thrown in. It gives the pleasure of skimming through a beautifully illustrated volume within a short span of time, with the audio-visual advantage.

Just ten years after the personal computers revolution, another one is beginning – this time with multimedia. As personal computers expand into video and audio domains, a dazzling new hybrid emerges – a computer than can produce sharp moving colour images on the same screen with texts and graphics combining high fidelity sound with imaginative software. The computer is becoming a tool that has the potential to change the way we do many things that matter a great deal to us, among them work, learn, communicate and play. It is still too early to be able to define what is going to make multimedia so special. Yet we know it is the beginning of something extremely significant. It takes about fifteen years for a new invention to move from discovery to commercialization. Multimedia is still very young. Probably around the end of this century, we would realise its tremendous potential.

The Multimedia System thus proves to be a hi-tech solution to communicate directly with the users or the target audience and provide them reliable information. It includes five basic components: a personal computer, a CD-ROM drive, an audio adaptor, operating system and application software to handle the devices and a set of speakers or headphones for audio output. In addition, video capture and playback technologies are incorporated into the multimedia systems as standard fare. A good multimedia system blends all these technologies into an interactive educational and business tool.

Multimedia systems continue desktop traditions and most users now prefer them over conventional computer system and they are being used for information disbursal in presentations and for education and training. Multimedia documents are becoming common place at work, classroom and homes. The advantages are: –

  • User can control the length of the interaction
  • User can select the language of information and disbursal
  • User has all information available at one spot

The meaning of multimedia and how it appears depend very much on the perspective of the observer. Multimedia will soon change the way we think and work, and learn. Psychologists learned in the 1960 that people remember far more of what they do than what they see or hear. The ability to combine doing with watching and model building is extraordinarily powerful and enjoyable. There was a philosopher name Lao-Tse in the fifth century B.C. who said, “If you tell me, I will listen. If you show me, I will see. But if you let me experience, I will learn”. Multimedia will soon be doing just that. Children, who spend thousands of hours in front of television sets before they are sixteen years old, will be able to learn and experience through such interactive multimedia projects. Eventually, the possibility is that all images – film, sound, animation – will be developed on the monitor, then blasted out of lens on the other side of the screen to cover an entire wall or ceiling – a surround kind of affair.

Let us not, however, easily get excited about all the realism and the colour that goes by the name of multimedia. Interactive multimedia tools will provide access to vast quantities of information but they can qualitatively improve dimensions of learning only if creative subject content people are involved in its implementation. An authoring system or technology will not shoot film, write scripts or design interactive programmes. Even if you get an inexpensive technological system, you still need to design good programmes. The only answer is creative people at work.

Realising its exciting possibilities, IGNCA is planning a few interactive multimedia projects in collaboration with the state-of-the-art research institutes. The success of such cultural learning systems will depend on: –

  • Quality of the source materials and its interpretations, and
  • the user interface technology that will allow the cultural learner to access the interpretive material in an “active” manner.

Both the above requirements can be amply provided by IGNCA. Our projects will utilize the skills and resources of eminent art scholars and educators as well as computer researchers with their interdisciplinary methodology and technology, to design these active learning tools. Research centres who are the world’s leaders in the fields of design, multimedia technology, intelligent information access, user interface, technology and culture will be involved. Identified projects will be developed in this unique interdisciplinary environment.

In traditional multimedia system, users access the content of the learning by text-based and ‘passive’ button-push based approach IGNCA proposed projects will build more “active” means of interaction that will utilize graphical drawings and gestures to access painting information, rhythm and melody recognition to access music information, and dance notations to access dance information. By “actively” participating in the information access, the learner will obtain empathy and active understanding of the learning content. The interactive nature of the exhibit means that it will provide a richer cross-cultural understanding to the user.

Let us see how such a medium can be used to understand the complexity of Gita Govinda the twelfth century poem by Jayadeva. This electronic analysis will embody a critical and creative dialogue bridging the disciplines of linguistics, philosophy, anthropology and the arts. The tools developed will be valuable for application in the arts and the sciences outside of the Gita Govinda context. The project will provide a means to disseminate presentations of the Gita Govinda in museum and academic settings. The museum-goer will interact with various experience points to understand both the expression of Gita Govinda in a particular medium as well as interrelationships across other media. For example, a museum-goer can interact with the music experience point, the exhibit will offer illustrations of the interconnections between run on poetry and music based upon the museum goer’s interactions with the music experience point. Thus, the museum – goer becomes the link between the various media and dimensions. The Gita Govinda contains numerous examples of how forms and techniques of one artistic medium provide material and scope of revealing insights into another.

Some issues which may pose problems in the implementation of multimedia projects could be: –

(i) Innovative ideas and high quality content are vital to the future of multimedia. How are they best prom0oted and protected? Traditional copyright laws may prove inadequate to this task and to obtain clearances for use of material could be difficult. To avoid litigation, licences may have to be obtained or individual negotiation undertaken with owners – usually publishers. Presently, this problem is largely tackled on the basis that even if unauthorised, the use of material be viewed as “fair use”. Other than that, with any kind of commercial use, copyright laws could be very strict in nature and protective of the author. To determine if something is “fair” may depend upon whether the new use is competitive with the original work. In application of “fair use”, proprietary interests tend to far outweigh public interests.

(ii) As indicated, we cannot now comprehend the range of applications people will find for this technology one it is in place. On receiving demonstration of telephone for the first time a wide-eyed Mayor in America made a bold prediction. He declared, “I would not be surprised if with a hundred years there were a telephone in every city in America!” We are in that state now with multimedia.

However, if much needed research of multimedia is left entirely to industry unfortunate consequences can ensue since companies have no interest in providing research for moving applications from one platform to another. Hence, funding for deep research must be made available to keep at bay garage enthusiasts. In the field of art and culture, IGNCA’s projects ill possibly be able to set standards for other art and culture related organisations in India. The documentation standard to be evolved, with considerable involvement of national and foreign experts will be of long-term value. As dissemination activities grow, there will be increased awareness and appreciation of our cultural heritage amongst diverse groups. Further, educational and R&D institutions in disciplines, like indological, religious and environmental studies, linguistics, planning and decision making bodies, art and cultural institutions within the country and abroad as well as organisations indirectly related such as tourism, printing and publication, information and broadcasting, etc., will all benefit.

(iii) It is important to understand that neither technology nor content is the key to multimedia. The capabilities of technology always run ahead of their applications and interactive multimedia is no exception. The content is not a constraint, it is what is done with the content that is important. It is vital to understand that we are dealing with understanding, knowledge and feelings, not just information and facts. We need to invest in that pursuit so that ideally technology should be invisible. Investment must be done to remove interfering distractions so that producers of multimedia spend more time designing experiences which can prove of lasting learning value.

In the Brave New World of multimedia, only the strong will march ahead. Used judiciously, it can be the “Open Sesame” to a treasure house of knowledge. It rests with mankind to either use this tremendous potential to unite assundered hearts in a strife-torn world or to fritter away this gift on cheap commercial pursuits which is the present fate of satellite television because of crassly commercial cable networks.

— Neena Ranjan

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