By Marcus Lavergne
The evolution of media technology involves continuously improving and developing newer, more efficient ways to record, photograph, project video and save data. From floppy disks to SD cards, and from film to digital photography, the progression is all too obvious. In a time where human beings are becoming more connected and are revealing more of the world’s stories and secrets, constant innovation and development of these types of technologies remains an important task.
The Media Technology: Past to Present gallery in the @One at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center exhibits a tangible expression of the power of time and human intelligence. Video recording machines like the bulky, 1,300-pound Ampex VR-2000 known as a “top of the line videotape machine” in 1964, which would have taken multiple people to operate and maneuver, can now fit in pockets in the form of a smartphone.
The gallery serves as a significant reminder of how journalism, pop culture and artistic expression have changed and are on track to continue transforming. It also stands to preserve some of the devices that helped make the careers of musicians like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, as well as helped ease the minds of listeners during former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous Fireside Chats — equipment like the famous RCA 44BX microphone, known for its iconic design and ability to enhance the sound of brass instruments.
That’s why having the gallery available to the public, especially students, is important according to @One Digital Media Technology Director Mark Gandolfo. The setup is a special reminder of how far that telecommunication has come.
“It’s kind of natural to show the heritage and DNA that lead to some of the devices we have here at the @One,” Gandolfo said. “We thought it would be very interesting for the students to note from a historical perspective where they fit in the [media technologies timeline].”
Gandolfo said an important aspect of working with audio, video and photography is understanding that the work can be supplemented by knowing the historical antecedents of the current devices.
“I really enjoy a lot of the student reactions,” Gandolfo said. “They haven’t really seen any of this stuff. It’s just not on their radar, but when they see how what it was like to create media even 20 years ago, 30 years ago, they’re shocked at the difficulty because a lot of the tools we have today make it relatively easy.”
Modern devices make creating media content more convenient than ever before. Gandolfo uses Moore’s law, which talks about how computer processing speed doubles each year, to describe the current technological era, excluding optic devices like cameras that can only get so small due to the physics involved.
“It’s not exactly the same in imaging technology,” Gandolfo said. “But now that imaging is done on silicon chips, the same principles apply. They can continue to do that, continue to decrease the size and improve the quality similar to what they’ve done with computers and computing technologies.”
As electronic devices are improved and making content doesn’t take as much time, Gandolfo worries that the appreciation for the hard work done behind the scenes is dwindling. He splits people into two different groups when it comes to working with media — the consumer group, which includes everyone who watches and absorbs well-made content, and the creative producer group, which is more focused on the behind-the-scenes mechanics.
Gandolfo said the ease of making videos quickly through Apple and Android products and other smart devices as well as the access to social media has made some forget that not all content is equal. He thinks back to earlier in his career with media technology when his job involved the tedious task of threading tape into a large, expensive Sony BVH-2000 videotape machine decades ago.
“A lot of people assume that [well-produced media] isn’t very hard to create, and that’s where there’s a disconnect,” Gandolfo said. “It still takes a professional with experience and knowledge of the medium that they’re in. That’s what we’re trying to teach here. [We’re] trying to make [students] producers/creator-makers rather than a consumer.”
The world of media technology is expanding and getting smaller at the same time. Ocular electron beam firing tubes like the Orthicon, used from 1940 to 1970, and the Vidicon, used from the ’60s to the ’90s, were replaced in contemporary gear by the smaller, less intrusive complementary metal-oxide semiconductor imaging sensors and other sensors like it.
The media technologies gallery provides an opportunity to take a trip through a time when media creation was experiencing explosive growth. Now, in an age of cutting-edge technology, the tools of the past remind the public of just how far human beings have come, as well as the potential of the near and distant future.
Marcus Lavergne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @mlavergne21.