In 2019 the growth of digital video looks like one enormous and steady trend. We see video appear wherever we can wrangle a screen, from smartphones to large screen tvs to the backs of passenger airplane seats and the fronts of gas station pumps. Video is also taking a growing variety of forms: streaming tv, live-streaming gaming, person-to-person video, large webinars, cutscenes within video games, animated gifs, and more.
So how far will digital video go?
Let’s look ahead and stretch our imagination.
First, what would a world of total video look like? Second, what would pause or reverse the growth of digital video?
See what you imagine.
Let’s envision video as our default setting in life. In this future we prefer to communicate through video, as opposed to all other mechanisms, so during a given day we participate in videoconferences as often as we check emails or text one another today. We consume content primarily through video – i.e., we’re watching stuff pretty frequently. We also make video, either by passive recording (having systems record our lives) or actively creating video content (recording, remixing, editing, sharing).
This has entailed an increase in the amount and variety of video hardware in our lives. More screens, for starters: on the sides of toys and of buildings, on sidewalks, projected against clouds. Building interiors – walls, ceilings, floors – display video (ads, information, news, entertainment). More recording devices appear in our personal environments: cameras, phones, and laptops, yes, but also glasses, drones, watches, jewelry, clothing, cars, bikes. Closets displays clothing options, based on your habits and its recommendation engine, each item rotating in space (both on you and not) so you can see their look from different directions. Mirrors in public or private spaces reflects your sleepy self alongside news or entertainment clips (for example).
Thinner, lighter, flexible screens are increasingly reliable, affordable, and present. Screen size ranges from tiny (the side of a pen) to immense (wall-sized videoconferecing, or city block scale projection).
Screens appear by themselves or as parts of other devices. Some are static, while others move, such as those attached to telepresence robots.
Naturally, there is an order of magnitude more software and network storage in play. Just as naturally there is all kinds of friction thanks to competing video standards, players, formats, etc. It’s not uncommon to see screens displaying error messages or the wrong content. Hacking is widespread, as per the poor security of the Internet of Things.
Other media have become video-ized. Static images, from signs to maps to photos, cards to clocks, become animations or short videos. Audio files increasingly take up video forms, such as images and animations added to podcasts, or art affixed to music tracks. Computer games are drenched in video, from animations through cutscenes. Making video by capturing game content – machinima – is widespread. PowerPoints are mostly a series of video clips.
Other media have also declined in use. First, they drop off as a proportion of human activity with all media, as measured by minutes spent each day. Second, they fade in absolute numbers. They don’t disappear, just shuffle to the margin. Think of the fate of radio as it fell from ruling the media roost in the early 20th century to its present status.
Tangible video is widespread. These are video interfaces that we can manipulate with our hands. Think of shared or public touchscreens, for example. Visit a store in this future and the choices are all displayed by video, with clips representing food, clothing, etc.; you touch them to get more information, to compare offerings, and to order. Imagine, too, videowalls in public and private spaces, which passersby adjust through casual gestures, flipping through different channels, pausing, or reshaping. The Corning “World Made of Glass” video already anticipated this back in 2012, with animations and full on video attending every gesture.
I wrote “tangible” but we should not restrict ourselves to hands and fingers. Imagine video screens that respond to user voices, either by proximity (moving content across multiple displays towards where watchers actually are) or through content analysis. Tough screens mounted along or even on sidewalks can display all kinds of content, from illumination to information; they can be triggered by walkers’ presence or gait analysis.
An update of closed circuit tv begins to spread. In 2019 a good number of cars helpfully show their drivers a close-up view from the machine’s rear, a view normally obscured by the car’s bulk. There’s interest in giving aircraft pilots a realtime view of what they can’t see from their cockpit (remember the Concorde’s nose?). Workers in spaces lacking external windows can play videos of the outdoors (scroll down for one post-apocalyptic example here); they are, in turn, examined by managers through video feeds. Some homeowners use Ring and other technologies to scan for threats to their property, much as hunters deploy game cameras. Let’s extent these practices into the future. Athletes preparing for a match can watch the competitive space from their locker rooms. Chefs can scan their customers. Tractor drivers watch minute ground details through a screen, toggling to check other areas not visible to the eye. Weather fans check into video feeds from tall building tops, from balloons, ships, or drones, looking for meteorological perspective. Increasing amounts of video screens, capture, and transmission mean a world of closed circuit tv 2.0.
These videos are displaced in space. They can also be removed in time. Think of a restaurant showing a video of food production: not live, but from the most dramatic moments. Advertising could portray goods and services at other points in their life cycles, and sometimes already do: an auto showroom showing a car being manufactured on an assembly line, a bank displaying borrowers paying of mortgages. This could extend even further, with an elementary school showing high school or college graduation to inspire its population, a construction company displaying the origin of its materials (mining, forestry, etc). A circular economy enterprise might use video to demonstrate items being repeatedly recycled, repaired, and upgraded, rather than being replaced.
Thanks to Chris Gilliard for talking through this point with me.
Privacy has eroded, as many people live-stream, archive, and asynchronously record their immediate environment. Companies continuing in the surveillance capitalism mode use video interactions to gather more data about user behavior, from clicks on menu kiosks to facial recognition of those watching a giant plasma screen. The more attention we pay to more video interactions, the greater the amount of data we generate.
There will probably be many different responses in play. Governments should offer regulatory solutions of various kinds (think revenge porn, protecting children, intellectual property shielding), usually long after a given tech and practice are in play. Businesses will likely sell privacy protection tools, from camouflage clothing and appliances (masks) to drone-blocking drones. Some of these tools become illegal, and have to be sought in shadowy places. Individual users try various approaches to share what they want of their lives, while cloaking the rest.
In this world education is a video-first enterprise. Students make videos for class projects, with elementary school kids learning video production as a basic literacy. There is an awful lot of video content for formal learning. Informal learning is primarily through videos.
Virtual/augmented/mixed reality is also video first. We consume a lot of video this way, such as watching a movie scene play across our furniture, or conducting a videoconference via glasses in a moving car. Video grammar changes to accommodate these technologies, as experiencing 360 video drives different user behavior than flat screens. Some videos are truly 360 degree affairs, presenting rich surrounds of material, while others use various techniques to nudge our attention to a particular point. We may also take in a lot of information through AR video: footage of a building’s interior, seen from outside; ads for businesses and real estate as we peer down a city street; agricultural information when we gaze at a field.
For a current example, look at this National Geographic AR demo. It isn’t entirely video content, but mostly so, and it leads with video:
The AI revolution will boost video, starting by helping create more content, including deepfakes. AI-driven deepfake detection is also in play. Backgrounds, minor characters, then major characters appear, followed by plot spinoffs and entire features. AI also helps users enhance and produce their own content. Some telepresence robots are guided or driven by AIs. Meanwhile, AI curation could help us navigate this vast sea of stuff to watch.
We inhabit a world of video ecosystems, embedded in and interacting with multiple screens, consuming and creating video. As a friend of mine once said, provocatively, “video is the new paper.”
What could reverse this?
It seems like the trend of expanding video is enormously powerful. It’s actually hard to think of what could drag video growth down, but we can speculate.
Audio tracks within video can be a problem in social environments, as overlapping sound typically yields a painful experience. Unless technological solutions are widely adopted, we might experience cacophony, which might in turn drive us back a bit. Or we’ll get used to silent videos, like animated gifs.
Revulsion at deepfakes could sour us on video, giving us the sense that video isn’t to be trusted. We could see the opposite of “pictures or it didn’t happen”; if it’s video, it didn’t happen. Now, all other media as susceptible to such AI-driven faking, if not more so, but people might feel more confident in their ability to detect imposture in images, audio, and text.
Alternatively, we might react or recoil culturally.
Living with a torrent of images could trigger a modern-day version of iconoclasm. Critics will likely charge us with living under the sway of video, even to the point of video fetishism. Our immersion in images might dialectically elicit the desire to rid ourselves of them. From the start we should expect no-video spaces, video breaks, and perhaps video detoxes, if that meme persists.
Such reaction may go further, arguing that video mediation removes us from immediate experience. Hakim Bey once argued for what he called “immediatism,” a cultural turn in favor of face-to-face experience over mediated communication. Jerry Mander damned tv as too simple for a complex world, de-education and stupefying us. Some of us might find that way of thinking to be congenial, and start arguing against bathing in so much video. Such a retro belief could take hold through various social mechanisms: intergenerational conflict, for example, with younger folks disdaining the olds’ video obsession, or vice versa. This could break out by geography (“those city folks and their videos!”), economic class, education level, religious affiliation, or gender.
It could also be driven by spectacle. There’s a fine Ray Bradbury short story, “The Murderer,” about a man who starts sabotaging media devices, starting with radio, in order to regain both silence and face-to-face conversation. We could see playful street art that covers video screens, such as stuck-on venetian blinds or drawn curtains. Imagine a wave of public videowalls being more aggressively defaced or destroyed – by gunfire, in America. This could inspire an iconoclastic copycat wave, with enraged activists shattering, painting, stabbing, or burning screens. An arms race of video protection and demolition techniques would probably ensue. American tv news will no doubt cover videoclasm with horror and glee.
Violent, specatular, and (naturally) widely shared by video videoclasm might also spark a reaction in the form of nonviolent critique of video (“I’m not one of those screen-smashers, but maybe they do have a point…”). People can adopt new habits to reduce or modify their video exposure, like having their AIs remind them to stop making and/or watching video, or altering their on camera appearance.
Bonus points if you recognize the source of this image.
Social protocols could arise regulating access to video. It will be acceptable to record yourself at certain times and locations, but not at others. For certain occasions/people/jobs people can reasonably be expected to appear on video on demand, like answering a phone call (back in the 20th century), while for others videoconference sessions have to be arranged in advance.
Otherwise, it seems at this point that we’re wading into a rising wave of total video. How far do you think the screens and cameras will rise?
(video camera photo by Tom Woodward; Blade Runner 2049 image from this Vox article; iconoclasting image via Wikipedia); shadowy figures on video image from this Reddit board; all other photos from me)