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Media Background
SEGD and the Future of Design

Nearly forty years ago, Canadian sociologist Marshall McLuhan defined media as the extensions of man, a view that remains consistent with the ways we use media today. For example, we use "tele-" media, such as tele-vision and tele-phone, to extend our dominion across distance or space. By definition, these media extensions enable us to see far and hear far. We use "mail" media, such as voice-mail and e-mail, to extend our dominion across time, initiating communication that is only complete at some subsequent moment when the intended recipient listens to or reads our message.

As the media of cyberspace and virtual reality (VR) evolve, they will similarly extend our senses across virtual space and time, not just as isolated experiences or entertainments, but as seamlessly integrated complements to the physical world.

While this seamless combination of physical and virtual realms may be a difficult notion to extrapolate from the present crude state of these new media, we also learn from McLuhan the insight that the initial content of any new medium is the old medium that it replaces. Many of the earliest dramatic motion pictures were little more than filmed stage plays, and the first television broadcasts of news, sports, and comedy were conceived as radio with pictures. So too the early instances of cyberspace and virtual reality have borrowed, adapted, and incorporated old media frameworks as their initial content.

However, history teaches us that media quickly evolve new modes of expression uniquely adapted to their technological capabilities. We now associate the work of Sergei Eisenstein in the 1920's with developing the visual vocabulary, such as montage, that transformed filmed plays into cinema. The inventive visual humor of 1950's broadcast comedian Ernie Kovacs permanently pushed television far beyond the limits of "radio with pictures."

Just as the media of cinema and television evolved from replacements for older media to free-standing media with their own form and content, the media of cyberspace and virtual reality are following a similar path.
JL



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