Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte

By Nicholas Negroponte

In energetic, mordantly witty prose, Negroponte decodes the mysteries--and debunks the hype--surrounding bandwidth, multimedia, digital truth, and the net, and explains why such touted strategies because the fax and the CD-ROM are inclined to cross the best way of the BetaMax. "Succinct and readable. . . . when you be afflicted by electronic anxiousness . . . here's a ebook that lays all of it out for you."--Newsday.

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PACKAGING BITS Many people who have taken a small step toward being digital think of bandwidth like plumbing. Thinking of bits like atoms leads to big pipes and little pipes, faucets and hydrants. A commonly used comparison is that using fiber is like drinking from a fire hose. The analogy is constructive but misleading. Water flows or doesn't flow. You can regulate how much comes out of a garden hose by closing the nozzle. But even as the flow from a fire hose slows to a trickle, the water atoms are moving as a group.

You have just been given permission to become a local epicenter in the bit radia- B Ε I Ν tion business. This license was meant for television, but what would you really do with it? Be honest. The very last thing you would do is broadcast HDTV, because the programs are scarce and the receivers few. With a little cunning, you'd probably realize that you could broadcast four channels of digital, studio-quality standard NTSC television (at 5 million bps each), thereby increasing your potential audience share and advertising revenue.

I had to bite my digital tongue, because I knew each of them personally, had heard them say the opposite, and had seen their respective digital TV efforts. Saving face, I fear, is to have two of them. RIGHT T E C H N O L O G Y , WRONG PROBLEMS The good news is that in the United States we are applying the right technology, digital, to the future of television. The bad Β Ε I Ν6 news is that we are still mindlessly addressing the wrong problems, those of image quality—resolution, frame rate, and the shape of the screen (the so-called aspect ratio).

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