Chapter Nine: Language And Other Cultural Markers

V. Newspapers, Television And The Movies

For an adult, 'the media' is probably the main channel through which culture is reinforced, absorbed and varied. Language forms the greater part of this cultural input, and much of what was said above about language also applies to the future of the media. That is to say, linguistic translation devices will have a major impact on the form and content of media communication. This will manifest itself in television and the movies (and their delivery through the Internet) before it affects printed newspapers.

By 2040, it seems unlikely that there will be any further use for devices or auditoria that have screens to display graphical images or for loudspeakers to replay sounds. Images and sounds (and for that matter tastes, feelings and smells) will be delivered directly to the brain's sensory input channels by wireless, magnetism or through bionic implants. This does not spell immediate doom for the movie industry. Cinemas have already converted themselves to offer entertainment experiences rather than just movies as such. And how wonderful to be able to take your foreign boy- or girl-friend to a movie and enjoy the experience in your own native languages (from 2020 or so when machine language translation has been perfected). There will presumably be a long period between say 2015 and 2040 during which the entertainment industry will gradually adapt its products and delivery methods to the oncoming technologies described in this and succeeding chapters.

On the Internet, there may be an intermediate stage in which content is displayed in a language chosen by the user. At home, hybrid televisual/internet systems may similarly use local electronics to display and voice content in an appropriate language. No more clumsy voice-overs or dubbing!

As to whether the content itself will be national or global: that depends on the future of national languages. National movie and television industries are heavily protected and supported by governments through tax-breaks and cultural barriers and this will surely continue to be so as long as separate national languages persist. Multi-country or regional television channels exist courtesy of multi-country languages, viz Al Jazheera, CNN or the BBC World Service. There are French and Spanish equivalents. News dissemination in the European Union is a 20-language nightmare.

As explained above, however, by 2030 national languages will be starting to give way before the assault of instant machine translation, and this will be the signal for the growing globalization of everyday experience in terms of sport, business, the arts and politics to be reflected in linguistic expression. By 2050 it is likely that a high proportion of linguistic media content will be created in English (but experienced in native languages). By 2100, it is likely, as explained in the Language paragraphs above, that language will have become redundant for most types of human expression; or, if it turns out that brains do require words to form and experience certain types of concept, that a common language will be in use for those few concepts that cannot be expressed or communicated as imagined images. Stores of historical data will remain in linguistic form, of course, and researchers will use language to study them. It is also possible that great literature and plays will continue to be experienced in legacy linguistic form; as mentioned above, this depends on whether or not their essence turns out to be communicable without the use of words.

It's pretty certain that the word 'hill' will have been substituted in movies by a non-linguistic representation of a hill, infinitely more shaded and meaningful than the word itself. Try imagining a hill, green perhaps, with sheep dotted around, a few copses clinging to the steeper ravines, and swallows wheeling overhead. Now, be honest, do you really need words to describe that to yourself? Why then would you need words to communicate it to a fellow human being, once the mechanisms of expression and communication have been understood? On the other hand, it is not so easy to form a picture of love. Perhaps one could communicate the feeling of love without words, even so. But then try imagining (imaging) mercy. You might be able to picture an example of mercy, but the concept? It is not exactly a feeling as such. So maybe there will be a residual use for conceptual linguistic symbols - evolutionary biologists now suppose that it was the invention of symbolic thought (not just words) that marked the great cognitive leap forward for early humans.

Naturally, developments in the machine (electronic) representation of human thoughts, concepts, emotions and symbols are a key part of the construction of adequate robotic devices. This subject is dealt with in Chapter Thirteen.

Newspapers and magazines are the spiritual home of national print languages and as long as a language continues to be learned and used in a country, newspapers will survive in that language. The extinction of newspapers at the hands of the Internet is frequently prophesied; they are expensive to produce, dirty to handle, bulky and carry much material that is redundant for any given reader. But all this is outweighed by their convenience. It will not be until national languages are supplanted by non-linguistic communication, or the development of a common language, that newspapers will disappear, although paper as such may be supplanted by an electronic version of itself by as early as 2020. Between 2050 and 2080, however, as effective direct delivery of cognitive content begins to bypass visual and auditory sensory channels, they will fade away, and by 2100 they will have gone, along with all paper or non-electronic representations of media content. But you don't need to sell those shares just yet!

Another characteristic of existing media which can be expected to change rapidly is that they are typically highly standardized. Movies, books and television programs are mass-market products. This is partly a result of technological limitations, and partly a reflection of mass cultural similarities, in which of course national self-stereotypes play a large role. It will be clear from previous chapters that globalization and the Internet will combine to offer individuals access to a far wider range of cultural possibilities than most people currently experience, leading to an explosion – already visible and already remarked upon – of 'niche' interests which can be served by new forms of media using sophisticated content management and distribution techniques. Needless to say, this is a highly 'groupish' phenomenon: when say 50 people can not only identify a common set of interests even when they have never met before, but can readily and cheaply obtain media feeds of various types accurately tailored to that set of interests, it is evident that the old model of standardized content and distribution will quickly die. This new type of medium can already be seen in operation, although so far in fairly primitive form, on sites such as Google.