It seems to me…
Digital media has destroyed much of the magic and mystery of the medium ~ John Dyer.
Recent articles on virtualization [i] discussed how Internet availability has changed the way we think about some of the more common “things” in our lives. Much of what in the past would have been physical objects exist now only in digital form in cyberspace – a trend only accelerating as data storage migrates from our own personal computers to out in some chimerical cloud.
Sale of music CDs has declined as music now is streamed or downloaded to online devices. Digital pictures are taken on cameras or mobile phones, uploaded to social sites, and never printed. Sale of e-books now has surpassed sales of books in hardcopy.Rather than purchasing movies on DVDs (or Blu-Ray), videos are increasingly being downloaded. Games are played online (how many people check their cows, chickens, and cornstalks on FarmVille?). Merchants are accepting payment from mobile phone apps eliminating the need for physical currencies.
We maintain contact with friends and relatives using e-mail and social media sites rather than writing “letters” relegating the U.S. Postal Service to the delivery of bills, items available only in printed form (some magazines, brochures, etc.), and unwanted junk mail (including political campaign material). Paper-based correspondence is becoming a lost form of keeping in touch. In the past our close friends normally resided within a short distance of us, now we frequently are separated from our “closest” friends by vast distances. Not only do we maintain contact through e-mail and Facebook, we visit using Skype where we actually see each other.
Our lives are becoming increasingly digital and the way we think of ourselves is changing to accommodate technological advances. The bookcases of hardbound books, racks of records, picture albums and frames hung on walls were an expression of who or what we considered ourselves to be. On-line content, whether photos, music, or text, is available at any time from any place and instantly shared as we so choose.
The downside of digital media is seldom considered. Applications are upgraded or replaced by different ones, storage formats change, and older files no longer are accessible.Conversion programs for older file formats are not always available and the information is lost[ii]. Photos and tags can be deleted from social media sites, and storage crashes result in loss of entire data collections.
While digital processes provide advantages, numerous other problems also exist slowing the transition from physical objects. Transmission speeds remain much too slow to adequately support many desired applications. Speeds necessary for various uses are[iii]:
- 768Kbps to 1.5Mbps
- Basic Email
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
- 1.5M to 3M
- Standard Definition (SD) Video
- 3Mbps to 6Mbps
- File Sharing (Small and Medium Files)
Internet Protocol Television (IPTV)
- 6Mbps to 10Mbps
- Online Gaming
Video on Demand (VOD)
- 10Mbps to 25Mbps
IPTV high Definition (HD)
- 25Mbps to 50Mbps
- HD Video Surveillance
50Mbps to 100Mbps
Video Conferencing with Multiple Users
- Over 100Mbps
- Real-Time Data Collection
Real-Time Medical Image Consultation
Most HDTV high-definition video sets now being marketed have 1080p[iv] video resolution which provides 1080 horizontal lines of vertical resolution and progressive scan and a widescreen aspect ratio of 16:9 implying a resolution of 1920 pixels wide by 1080 high. The frame rate can be either implied by the context or specified after the letter ‘p’, such as 1080p30, meaning 30 progressive frames per second.
For live broadcast applications, a high-definition progressive scan format operating at 1080p at 50 or 60 frames per second is currently being evaluated as a future standard for moving picture acquisition. In Europe, 1080p50 is considered to be the future broadcasting format standard.
To watch just a six-gigabyte 720bpi HD video requires a download bandwidth of 15 Mbps or more but today, viewers want full 1080p video which requires speeds up to 40 megabits per second.
While 91 percent of U.S. homes have broadband Internet access, only 57 percent actually use it[v]. Since the U.S. invented the Internet, we tend to think we are the leader in available Internet speed and penetration but reality (as also true in many other areas) is far different. A recent Internet posting ranking consumer download speeds by country produced the following results:
1. Hong Kong: 36.55 Mbps
2. Andorra: 36.15 Mbps
3. Lithuania: 33.70 Mbps
4. Taiwan: 28.88 Mbps
5. Singapore: 28.09 Mbps
6. Macau: 27.95 Mbps
7. South Korea: 27.74 Mbps
8. Latvia: 27.22 Mbps
9. Luxembourg: 27.11 Mbps
10. Romania: 26.08 Mbps
25. United Kingdom: 15.75 Mbps
33. Russia: 14.06 Mbps
35. Canada: 12.83 Mbps
36. United States: 12.55 Mbps
42. Australia: 10.76 Mbps
62. China: 6.66 Mbps
Not only are U.S. Internet connection speeds considerably slower than many other countries, we also have one of the most expensive mbps (megabytes per second) rates at $3.33. These higher costs result from a lack of effective competition among Internet service providers which also provides a disincentive for broadband providers to significantly raise the speeds included in their service tiers. High-speed Internet connections in the U.S. costs consumers more than in other countries so fewer people can afford them.
The U.S. broadband infrastructure investment tends to be comparatively lower than in other nations. Investors discourage carriers in the short-term from making long-term investments in network infrastructure. Upload speeds also are significantly slower than download speeds since business models assume Net content to primarily be what Internet providers deliver to us, not what we might want to upload.
For most users, the difference between download and upload speeds has not been significant since people generally do far more downloading than uploading. Upload speeds become more important to someone who is going to be doing large amounts of uploading, such as someone who works from home and wants to exchange files with a remote network, or people who play a lot of online games. It will become increasingly important as users switch to online video phone systems.
The problem is recognized and even President Obama has addressed the issue on numerous occasions[vi]. Unfortunately, the current Congressional deadlock has prevented any progress on this issue regardless of its national importance.
That’s what I think, what about you?
[i] Greengard, Samuel. Digitally Possessed, Communications of the ACM, May 2012, pp14-16 and Anderson, David. Historical Reflections, Communications of the ACM, May 2012, pp33-34.
[ii] As an example, my PhD thesis was written in the early 1980s on 5¼ inch floppy disks using the Wordstar text processor on a computer running the CP/M operating system. While hardcopy versions are available, the digital copy no longer can be accessed. Copies of several of my books from the early 1970s only exist on 12 inch floppy disks. None of my documents written in the 1980s using Microsoft Word running on SCO Unix still are accessible.
[iii] MoBroadbandNow, http://mobroadbandnow.com/broadband-101/broadband-speeds/.
[v] Miller, Joshua Rhett. Obama’s High-Speed Internet Plan: Broadband or Boondoggle?, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/03/02/obamas-high-speed-internet-plan-broadband-boondoggle/, 02 March 2009.