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The Trace, The Scent, and the Link: Tracking the Moment

LBJ watches TV

Consuming the multicast, looking for traces of import, and then switching and focusing. Lyndon Johnson was famous for watching all three television networks at once during news broadcasts. But he didn’t consume each stream in its entirety, he was looking for cues to dig out the segments that mattered. He assembled his own narrative from this highly engaged viewing activity.

Elvis watches tv

Politicians need to keep their finger on the pulse to be successful. Elvis Presley also watched all three networks at the same time. He was looking for cues to crack a different kind of code. He scanned the frequencies searching for the scent of cultural information, then quickly switched and focused.

Man who fell to Earth

This model was taken to the extreme in the film The Man Who Fell To Earth. David Bowie played a space alien who absorbed the local culture through a raw feed of all available broadcast channels.

The television remote control made switching simpler, but unless you could visually monitor each of the frequencies, you might miss the sign that signaled the necessity of a switch of focus. Cable television allowed the number of channels and networks to explode. Scanning the frequencies is no longer a job that can done by an individual. The Internet multiplied the possible number of channels into the millions.

Originally it was the VCR, and later the DVR and YouTube that made filtering and copying these valuable moments into a buffer for ready Network access a simple affair. Scanning the raw feed pouring off the network is now done through social media filters, perhaps most effectively by Twitter through communities of interest. A tweet containing a hyperlink is the most compact channel switcher, the most efficient pointer to items of interest.

These pointers we share through the Twitter feed point to locations in the cloud. We click and activate on-demand content that streams in to our computers. Today we think about the text, video and audio we access as a substitution for traditional broadcast and print media. But almost anything that can be expressed as software can be on the other side of that hyperlink. Here we are only limited by our imaginations.

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