Lluis Codina. Teaching and research in communication and digital documentation.
Nicholas Negroponte (b. 1943), director of The Media Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is the author of Being Digital, one of the books with the most suggestive prospective that have recently appeared on the information highways and media, which has been rapidly translated into Spanish and published by Ediciones B, under the title of El Mundo Digital (the digital world).
In the aforementioned work, Negroponte presents us with a veritable flood of ideas, many of them treated in a rather lax way, or if you will, in a not very academic way, but always brilliantly. Thus, in the digital world we can perceive at least two extremely important main ideas to forecast what could be the future of digital media.
First, Negroponte believes that the real battle between information supports that is taking place is between what he identifies as the bits movement and the atoms movement respectively: "Take for example the current newspaper. The text is written on the computer; reporters send the reports by e-mail, the photos are digitized and transmitted by cable, and pagination of a modern newspaper is carried out by computer-aided design systems, preparing the information for transfer to a movie or to record directly on impression plates. That is to say, all the design and creation of the newspaper is digital, from beginning to end, where ink is poured on dead trees. It is here, at the end of the process where the bits are converted into atoms." (Negroponte, 1995: p. 76).
According to this idea, the business information is based currently on the movement of atoms, that is to say, the distribution of physical objects: magazines, newspapers and books, for example. However, the real merchandise of this industry is the information (bits). Therefore, identification with the movement of atoms is only historical and accidental, since it is much easier and cheaper to move bits that move atoms, it is expected that in the future all media and communication technologies will be digital.
CD-ROMs also move atoms
Another consequence of this approach is that beyond the classic analysis of the issue, according to which the main conflict between information media would be between electronic and print media.
If we consider the question of the latter form, books or magazines distributed on CD-ROM and books or magazines distributed over the Internet would be on the same side, that is to say, the electronic media, opposing those printed on paper, while if done from the point of view of Negroponte, both CD-ROMs and documents printed on paper are on the same side, that is to say, as a movement of atoms, while left-side movement of bits would be those using the information highways as a means of distribution, whether textual or audiovisual media.
This view, therefore, predicts the success of the media that are distributed over the Internet and the failure of CD-ROMs in the role as future media supports. In addition, the terminology Negroponte uses serves to remind us that not all electronic media is digital, but all digital media are electronic.