MaxBarry.com
nice idea, shame about the execution

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Fri 20
Jul
2007

The revolution will be televised in low-resolution

Max One thing that’s always bothered me about sci-fi movies is how bad everybody’s communications technology is. Well, that and the costumes. Seriously, if the future is Spandex, I take back what I said about never wanting to die. But anyway, every brave new vision of the future you see, the phone system has gone to hell. Alien, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, you name it: people are flying around, firing laser guns, and talking through intercoms that make them sound like Stephen Hawking gargling. Even a simple video link spits and fuzzes as if they’re tuning it through a coathanger. Will the future really be filled with technological marvels that enhance every area of our lives but this?

Now I realize: yes. We’re already on the way. I used to listen to music on CD, watch TV on a television, take photos with a camera, and talk to people on a phone with a cord. Now I have internet radio, MP3s, YouTube, VoIP and a cellphone. Even my home landline is a wireless thing that makes people sound as if they’re calling from inside an empty beer can. I don’t yet watch TV on my cellphone, but my phone company wants me to, even though the screen is one inch wide. I do take photos and videos on it, and that’s what I’ll have to look back on: a bunch of 8x6 pixel images and footage so jerky everyone seems to be having a seizure.

You know where this started? Vinyl. Oh yes, we laughed, when the purists said CDs didn’t sound as good. Well, maybe you didn’t, you weren’t born. But ask your Dad. Those long-haired freaks were right.

Comments

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Sven B. (#2792)

Location: Paris, FR
Quote: "If you did not make it, don't try to fix it."
Posted: 2560 days ago

Welcome to the Brave New World ! Yeah, I lovd it when they began to brodcast ads that said "Hey, why wouldn't you watch a movie on your cellphone ?" Well, I don't know. Maybe because I would have to squint so much it'd make my eyes bleed by the fifth minute of any movie ? Or perhaps the fact that downloading a movie on my cellphone would take ages and would send my bill on high orbit ?

But we're heading towards this. Even the old "E.T. phone home" joke has become "E.T. VoIP home", now. Sheesh. Worst of all, if you want to record something that's aired on TV you need at least a degree in Quantum Physics to understand how to program your set top box...

I miss the old days... And I'm only twenty-five. Let's face it guys : we're doomed.

Meghan Johnson (#2004)

Location: Roanoke, Virginia
Quote: "If they didn't get a puppy in the end...."
Posted: 2560 days ago

It makes me wonder what will happen. Will the nice, clear sounding technology that we all know and love disappear? I love Vinyl. I also love my VoIP phone... I'm stuck in between two generations and I want out!

That said, I don't know how I'd live without my crappy sounding cell phone...

Dan (#3126)

Location: New York City-ish
Quote: "The main thing about Van Gogh…is that he painted pictures that astonished him with their importance, even though nobody else thought they were worth a damn. --Kilgore Trout"
Posted: 2560 days ago

Cable television too. Used to come over, y'know, cables, and it worked dandyfine. Now it's digital, so you get hundreds of channels, and you get "better" image quality, and you get a lot of features I know nothing about because I don't use them, but, your image breaks up into pixels with surprising frequency. Not so much you can really complain, but enough that you begin to wonder who defines 'progress'.

Machine Man subscriber Bushra (#36)

Location: Fremont, California
Quote: "www.caffeinatedmuslim.com"
Posted: 2560 days ago

I know this isn't the point of your blog post, but have you seen the new Battlestar Galactica TV show? It's great :)

Jason C. (#1266)

Location: Drive north from Max's place for about four/five days
Quote: "Be just. And if you can't be just, be arbitrary."
Posted: 2560 days ago

It's funny y'know, I'm 29 and five years ago I was a nerd for gadgets and hi-tech anything. Now I've become a luddite, I won't listen to music on technology developed after CDs because it sounds worse the more modern the technology gets and I think books (without all the bullshit tie-ins online) reign over all else. I don't like the promise of hi-def TV, the presenters are still ugly and the actual point of the content has lost out to "aren't you glad you spent 10k on your widescreen plasma TV?" events.

To wit: plasma TVs should be denounced for their excessive energy consumption and web 2.0 (web 1.0 with marketing tie-ins) is stupid.

Yubi Shines (#1664)

Location: Canada
Quote: "HOPE RIDES ALONE!"
Posted: 2559 days ago

Not to mention, all computer screens in the future? Have two colours: black and green. They're all in Courier font, too. Goodbye, slick gleam of XP.

Machine Man subscriber Toby O (#2900)

Location: Sydney
Quote: "You can't sell your soul to the devil if he's not buying"
Posted: 2559 days ago

Low rez video and sound processed through a digital synthesizer in many sci fi? I think it's the same reason the leading lady is done with more colourful makeup than the female friend, and the temptress is done with even more than the leading lady: points of reference.

Or was that your point? Gadgets these days are pretty nifty, true.

@Yubi: You're talking 'bout archetypes, paradigms, and design.

Hobbie (#1359)

Location: Cornwall, England
Quote: "There was a little man in his hair!"
Posted: 2559 days ago

You know, I take umbrage at your assumption that your readers are all too young to have vinyl records. I have loads of the things still, original Led Zeppelin, Supertramp, Beatles etc.

And I do still listen to them, even though someone got me an MP3 player for Christmas a few years ago. They sound better. That's all there is to it.

Long-haired freaks indeed... unbiased opinion from Australia's baldest young man... heh.

Dan (#387)

Location: UK
Quote: "I have the energy of a bear that has the energy of two bears!"
Posted: 2559 days ago

Not wanting to sound like a geek - but failing - Star Wars is set "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away". That's not the future.

Video phones are mainly annoying though, and the thought that airlines are considering trialling mobile phones on planes is horrible. It's hard enough to rest as it is without various novelty ringtones going off every 5 minutes.

And I own vinyl too, yet I am under 30.

Jeffrey (#2286)

Location: Right here
Quote: "Mathematics is a powerful language. Just look at how mathematicians destroyed the housing market."
Posted: 2559 days ago

funny : )

Rod McBride (#688)

Location: Gardner, KS
Quote: "www.MidwestRockLobster.blogspot.com"
Posted: 2559 days ago

Well, I still have my record player, and I still like vinyl, though the convenience of CDs has worn me down considerable. A decent hi-fi can make CDs sound almost like music, especially if it's a 24-bit resolution.

The first CDs sounded like rotten eggs smell.

The record companies said, at the time, that CDs would be cheaper than records. Which is true, except they continued to charge LP prices for the damn things, and their greed helped foster the whole Napster thing. File sharing would have been an issue no matter, but how many fewer people would blatantly pirate a $3 CD? At a price point like that (more than a profitable price for a mass market release by a major label), only college students are going to pirate much.

Instead of replacing records with CDs, we'd all be better off (including the record companies) if they'd replaced cassettes instead...

austin (#2462)

Location: rhode island
Quote: "hmmm...bleh..."
Posted: 2557 days ago

Although, having the SAL 3000 run my spaceship might be fun...

Grace (#1225)

Location: Melbourne aka The Cliffs of Insanity
Quote: "I refuse to have a battle of wits with someone who is unarmed."
Posted: 2557 days ago

In my experience people always start making these kinds of observations shortly after having children.

Think about it. My parents used to do it. I bet yours did too.
And now it has happened to Max.

Chloe (#3211)

Location: Melbourne
Posted: 2557 days ago

But that's the point on BSG - it's a decommissioned Battlestar that exists as a museum piece until the Cylon invasion forces it back into service.

Machine Man subscriber Marleen (#2741)

Location: Berlin, Germany
Quote: "I want more expensive shoes in one place than I've ever seen in my whole life."
Posted: 2557 days ago

Max, my boyfriend and I were repeatedly asking ourselves the exact same question, last time we discussed this was two days before you posted the splendid explanation. Confused no more!

The enterprise's big screen is really a giant photo-apparatus, so that's why it's blurry. And the intercom was delivered as a special treat alongside with the playstation 117.

La Gringa (#3221)

Location: NYC
Quote: ""Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." - Lewis Carroll"
Posted: 2554 days ago

I am waiting for our heroes on Battlestar Galactica to whip out two cans and a string.

Malid (#3225)

Location: Corporate America
Quote: "And Yet."
Posted: 2549 days ago

How bout writing a Sci Fi where all the communication is super high tech. Make it about all the future guys with high tech communication trying to repress a rebellion from all the poorer of society who are still using walkie talkie's and digital watches.

Michael Ricksand (#2212)

Location: Terra
Quote: "You do not have a right to be stupid."
Posted: 2547 days ago

My guess is that if not for the poor sound quality, people might hear Obi-Wan Kenobi talking to Anakin Skywalker through an intercom, and think Obi-Wan was with Anakin because he sounded an though he was there in person. or maybe it's beacuse of the omnipresent possibility to say "I can't talk now; there's a bad connection" whenever you wanted to hang up.

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