I read an article once, I no longer remember where, on the subject of fiber optic cable systems and "smart television" which dealt with hypothetical bandwidth and compression ratios which we might see within twenty years or so. I took the time to run some of the numbers that were being bandied about and found something pretty scary.
If you assume that the big three networks have been in 24 hour a day operation for fifty years each, the entire repertoire of a single network, news, commercials and re-runs included, can be run as a continuous loop slightly over thirty days long. So, if you want to catch the "live" broadcast of the first moon landing, you just tell your smart TV what code number to look for, and the next time it passes through the back of your set, it gets downloaded for viewing. OK, so you might have to wait a month to get it, but that's only if, say, NBC has one fiber "channel." If they have 10, out of phase, you only have to wait three days or so for it. With thirty, only one day. So, three networks, times thirty channels equals ninety channels. What to do with the other 910? There are other networks of course-eighty some channels in most areas to be precise-but they haven't been in operation as long. A couple hundred channels ought to do it for them. Let's see, that's maybe 500 channels spoken for. Assign a few hundred for data and other "Net" functions, and you still have at least two hundred channels left. Remember, that's enough to cover the combined output of fifty years of CBS and NBC every day. What to do with this unused bandwidth? One of the running gags on Garfield and Friends is the all potato cable channel. I fear that will not be too far from the truth.
I have this vision of the fiber optic cable system as a network of crisscrossing underground pipes with an enormous cross-section. The entire planet is covered with funnel-shaped openings which lead into this vast system-almost everywhere there is a computer and scanner. At each of these openings stands a group of people shoveling stuff into the opening as fast as they can. They don't bother to look at what they're shoveling, just so long as they keep the hopper from going dry. If they stop, the whole thing will collapse, and they know it.
The information age is upon us-we now have the capacity to communicate at speeds never before possible. What does it get us? Trenchant essays on popular psychological models of behavior as dramatized on The Beverly Hillbillies. We are forced to recycle popular culture to fill bandwidth.
Dale Austin 1996
All images and text Copyright Dale Austin, 1962-2008