First came TV. It shaped - some might say warped - the perceptions of the baby boomers. Television was produced by professionals and watched by amateurs, an unequal match.
Then came camcorders. The children of the baby boomers were not just passive watchers of video content like their parents; they became the subjects of the documentaries.
The next generation of kids won't just watch video or be the subjects of video - they will create video. Technology marches on.
This Christmas, Lego is introducing the Steven Spielberg MovieMaker Set, priced at $180 and aimed at kids under 10 years old. Intel (INTC) will offer a competing product for $149, and several software makers are rolling out products for video editing and manipulation.
In Japan about 90 percent of the camcorders sold are digital; in the United States only 10 percent of camcorders sold are digital, but their market share is growing rapidly. Digital content is much more flexible than analog - it offers a sharper picture and is easier to manipulate on the computer. The difference between first-generation analog camcorders and current digital models is like the difference between a manual typewriter and desktop publishing tools.
Today's office workers know the difference between Helvetica and Times Roman fonts, a distinction that would strike their parents as arcane. The children of those same office workers know the difference between a dissolve and a fade, a distinction hardly recognized by their parents.
DVDs are now sold with director's commentary, storyboards, special effects, the-making-of documentaries and other ancillary content. These titles have become textbooks for how to make a movie and provide the basic training for the dig-vid generation. DVD extras have made movies open source.
Marshall McLuhan once argued TV's power as a propaganda medium was due to the fact that the author controlled the pace at which the content was viewed. When you read an article in a magazine, you can pause, re-read and check the argument. (Don't take my word for it - stop and think about it!) But when you watch TV, there is no time to think; the editor can skip over the details. The editor gets to choose what you see, when you see it and how you see it.
The TV show Survivor was effective because the director knew who won and could enhance the drama by selective editing, showing the planning, plotting and manipulating that determined the outcome. A competing "reality" program took place in real time. It was a flop, since reality isn't nearly as interesting as edited reality.
People were once persuaded by oratory, then by books and newspapers. Now they are persuaded by TV. But TV might soon lose some of its powers of persuasion. The next generation will be a better match for the video marketeers because they will know how it is done and how to better defend themselves.
Not only will the viewers know the tricks of the trade, but the technology will give them more control over the rendering of the content. Personal video recorders, like Replay and TiVo (TIVO), let you pause, replay, fast-forward and interact with TV content, just as you can stop, re-read and flip through a book.
In the near future, tools for creating, editing, manipulating and sharing video over the Internet will become a hot commodity. When the vid-kids become screen-agers, the market for these products will mature and personalized video will be integrated into our lives, as has desktop publishing.
Our generation is an easy target for video manipulation. The next generation will be better armed.
Hal Varian is dean of the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California (dossier) at Berkeley.