Thinking of metaphors for future use. Transmission is a capability that seems amplified by the Internet, as it was amplified in the past by the near simultaneous inventions of photography and the telegraph. Is transmission always coincident with broadcast? The adoption of the term narrowcast to describe low power radio and some forms of Internet delivery seems important. The former is limited geographically, the latter by the bandwidth limitations of the server providing content.
Looking at the OED, it seems that the term “narrowcast” has been around since 1932. The OED quotes H. Angus in Broadcasting 7/2: “By ‘narrow-casting’ I mean any type of education or entertainment or information that isn’t of interest to the general public.” This indeed describes the network I find myself surfing, like many others I have long since lost interest in what the mainstream media, or the mainstream of “blogdom” has to say about anything.
What triggered my thinking about this was Patrick Maynard’s definition of photography as “a branching family of technologies, with different uses, whose common stem is simply the physical marking of surfaces through the agency of light and similar radiations” (Engine of Visualization 3). In the case of both cinema and Internet technologies, these markings are evanescent transmissions.
People and their marks appear and disappear on the Internet, and we partake of their communications through an entirely different surface. It is a surface composed of light transmitted from a screen. As any student of photographic technologies could tell you, surfaces reliant on transmitted light (such as slides) have a higher potential dynamic range (from light to dark) than reflective surfaces. But the price we pay for exhibiting transparencies is a reliance on other technologies to provide the light needed to see them; prints can be viewed without constant upkeep. Bulbs burn out.
Transmission has several senses. In this second sense, transmission doesn’t really relate to the aesthetic component, but rather to a formative one. In the primary sense, the communicative one, transmission raises aesthetic questions. Not questions of quality really, but questions of appeal. At least, that is the way I read Angus’s take on the coinage of narrowcasting as a companion word to broadcasting.
The verb form of “narrowcast” seems to have surfaced around 1972, as the OED cites TV Guide: “Candidates for lower-level offices need never again ‘broadcast’ their message prodigally to large masses of viewers who can’t vote for them; instead they’ll ‘narrowcast’ it cheaply only to those who can.” This form of “niche marketing” has been with us a long while.
I was amazed when sitting in on a panel discussion among bloggers a while back how little thought they had given to hosting ads, or collecting money from referrals on their blogs. They have no problem with transmitting someone else’s message along with their own. Perhaps the seductive nature of the screen with its greater depth and dynamic range that makes them think that this is somehow more permissible.
I don’t know why this flies under the radar of so many people. It went off like a big red flag for me—and it is the reason why I maintain my own domain rather than availing myself of the other sites available (with a minimal amount of advertising) for “free.” I don’t wear designer clothing ads on my body either. I find all this commercialization abhorrent. I began to wonder if it was just me, until I read Jonathon’s excellent post on the subject.