Wednesday, February 20, 2013

'Why I'll start using the word 'mixmedia' instead of 'multimedia' – a guest post from Pedro Monteiro

I'm thrilled to be able to repost this article from Portuguese graphic designer, Pedro Monteiro, which first appeared on his website Digital Distribution.

Lately, as I discuss digital storytelling, I find myself correcting my speech whenever I use the word multimedia. Mostly, I change it to the word mixmedia; finding that this word better relates to my line of thought and speech. I’ll explain here why I tend to do this and why I believe you should also do it.

As we all know, every new medium goes through a stage of transition. This aspect of a new medium has been discussed in detail, from McLuhan to Nick Bilton. What happens is that, for a while, storytellers will publish their stories in the new medium using the language they control; usually the reflection of a old medium associated language. There are many examples of this happening – some of them not as modern as you might expect, like this early printed book with hand written initials and another example of a book, with the open spaces ready for the drawing of those initials – and one of the most common examples is that of the early television broadcasts.

Nick Bilton, in his book I Live in the Future and Here’s How it Works, tells us about those early TV broadcasts where, if you closed your eyes, you’d think you where listening to a radio show. Actually, those early TV broadcasts were made just like radio shows – the previous language mastered by storytellers. You can experience it for yourself on this video, from a very early TV broadcast by BBC, in 1936.

Nowadays, in the digital realm – which includes both the Internet, ereaders and all that we call mobile, like smartphones and tablets –, I believe we are experiencing a stage of transition, like the ones other storytellers like us experienced before. What has been published on digital supports, mostly has a very clear resemblance with languages from other media. One of the best examples, for me, that mirror this transition stage is that of the journalistic article. If we compare the following images (all from The New York Times, but I could have chosen any other news publication), we can see that things haven’t changed that much with the journalistic article, regardless of its mean of distribution (printed, online or tablet):
 photo nytpaper_zps4b490cf7.jpeg
 photo nytonline-sm_zps56f4d328.jpg
 photo nytipad-sm_zps3740f137.jpg
The basic format for a journalistic article remains the same: a title, one picture and the body text. This happens, regardless of the platform for publishing it.

Back to the discussion about word usage. What I’ve been finding is that the word multimedia also relates a lot to this transitional stage for the digital medium. The word itself, inserted on its publishing usage, reflects that digital platforms can be used to publish more than one type of media – and that’s true –, be it text, pictures, audio, video, etc. But, since we’re on that transitional stage, the word doesn’t infer a rethinking of the story to be published by the means of its publishing platform. On the three examples above, you have multimedia articles. Each article has a picture and text – that’s multimedia! A video on Youtube is multimedia. A podcast is also multimedia and so is a slide show. What I mean is that the word itself and its usage completely connects with what we’ve all been publishing online (like this article of mine!) and that’s nothing more than the usage of old language on a new medium.

As I’ve stated before, when discussing digital storytelling, I use more and more the word mixmedia. When we refer to a mixmedia journalistic article – I’m keeping this as the main example for my thesis, but you can change it with any other form of digital storytelling – we’re impelled to think beyond the traditional idea of a journalistic article. Mixmedia in itself relates with the usage of different multimedia tools in order to tell a story. Of course that you can still think of this and make a digital article like the ones showed before, but the most important fact about the usage of this two words is that with mixmedia you’ll think about using different multimedia tools in order to tell your story (I’ve written about this before here).

Our aim, for digital storytelling, should be that of understanding that each new medium goes through a stage of transition and, during that stage, what we do with it, for storytelling purposes, is nothing more than use old languages on a new medium. Having this concept fully understood will enable us to move forward and work in order to find the new medium new language. Once we find this new language (like in so many mediums before digital), we’ll start using it, producing stories that feel so much natural for our audiences than the things we’ve been doing before. Just compare the above BBC TV broadcast with what you’re watching at home right now.

On a final note I want to share an example of a move to the right direction, regarding digital storytelling. Just before the end of 2012, The New York Times published online the amazing digital story Snowfall. This is a great example of a mixmedia digital story and one that can point all of us into a digital language direction. The difference between this article and the one I’ve showed before is huge and, somehow, Snowfall ‘feels’ much more natural for a web browser than the examples above. This can be seen as a signal that a new language for this medium is being found. The audience to this The New York Times digital story was amazing and, again, we can relate it to the natural feeling (more than the ‘wow’ feeling, in my opinion) that all of us had to this story. Snowfall is, more than a multimedia story, a real mixmedia story, where all the bits that make the story are related with that narrative and with the publishing platform used for it.

This is why I’m using mixmedia instead of multimedia, whenever I discuss digital storytelling in the future.

Pedro Monteiro is a Portuguese graphic designer and tablet publishing consultant whose writing has appeared here at TNM before (see his interview with Joe Zeff of Joe Zeff Design following the release of the interactive book app Above & Beyond: George Steinmetz).