Advanced Interactive Media/A Definition For Interactive Media

An inclusive definition for interactive media is elusive, if not impossible to write. Perhaps interactivity can be described by degree, but not by a single, all-encompassing definition. Interactive media (hereafter referred to as "IM") has been called a "hybrid media technology", because it can combine any format (print, web, disc, video, audio, etc.) that allow users to interact with content.

A primary characteristic that makes interactive media difficult to define is the fact that this field is evolving more rapidly than most other aspects of new technology. For example, multisensory possibilities being developed by Japanese researchers are bringing startling new considerations to the multimedia mix. Movies an audience can taste, touch, see, hear and feel are not science fiction. User created content on YouTube is a manifestation of people's desire for interactivity in the media they experience. Ultimate control over a movie is achieved when the audience creates the content themselves.

Interactive media designers are information designers and rely on communication. User feedback defines the interactive process so, most (but no all) web sites can be considered primitive interactive experiences by clicking buttons. Video games provide some of the most advanced experiences and demonstrate that interactive design is maturing at light-speed - - although it's important to realize that not all forms of interactive media are electronic. Magazines provide some of the most primitive interaction when users send a response to the publisher for future publication. Puzzle and game books are also interactive since they demonstrate that participation and communication are key elements in making media interactive.

Turning the pages of a textbook in order to read requires minimal involvement, while blockbuster video games can be described as much more highly interactive multimedia. A book might be defined as a multimedia format in that it can include pictures, maps, graphs, charts, or timelines, but while it uses other media, it is not interactive, because it is designed to be navigated in a way that the author has predetermined. A reader can use the index at the back of a book, or flip through pages, but the text itself has only one hierarchy of topics and is intended to be read from beginning to end. Writers can't include large volumes of additional information between the covers of a book even though that content might be a vital part of the story.

Interactive Multimedia programs, on the other hand, bring the opportunity for extraordinary storage and delivery capabilities of computerized material. This is especially important for schools, libraries and learning institutions where books are difficult to obtain and update. Multimedia can provide access to other kinds of inaccessible materials, such as hard to find historical films, rare sound recordings of famous speeches, illustrations from difficult to obtain periodicals, and so on. Multimedia can put primary and secondary source materials at the fingertips of users in even the remotest locations of the world.

It's not just access that makes multimedia powerful, but the control over content given to users. IM programs enable the user to manipulate the materials through linking, sorting, searching and annotating activities.

Interaction with others gives our lives meaning. In contrast, total isolation from human contact or any stimuli is considered one of the most effective forms of torture. These facts help define the significance of multimedia that is designed to respond to user interactions. Just as there seems to be a craving for virtual experiences that increasingly resemble the real world, perhaps it is possible that the requirement for interaction is at the core of all human needs.

When human (person to person) interaction is impractical, unlikely or impossible, the next best experience requires interactive, immersive, multi-sensorial, IM. It follows that the most effective interactive experience should consider each of these issues. Until now, the technology to generate these kinds of experiences has been restricted to the holodeck of the starship Enterprise. With the advent of powerful and affordable personal-computer workstations and the rapid development of user-friendly multimedia software, almost anyone can get into the game.

Among all the choices of hardware and software available to create IM, it is a challenge for students to identify the most effective tools that are accessible for creating IM. Once identified, learning to use this hardware/software can seem overwhelming, but this may be the least of all problems to be conquered. Judging by the general lack of success of IM thus far, the greatest challenge seems to be that of creating a product of significance, that is, something that makes a difference in people's lives.

Addictive blockbuster video games are the essence of IM, but what is their lasting significance? The power of interactive, immersive, multi-sensorial, IM is unleashed by these games, but to what end?

The generation of people born between 1982-2000 have been brought up in a completely different world than ever before. No longer does a young person spend their free time with their nose in a book, but rather, they express a need to be completely immersed in multi-sensory interactive media. In order to keep the attention of this up and coming generation of young people, companies are going to have to make their content more and more interactive. Teachers can no longer stand in front of a class and lecture to their students. Instead, teachers are now compelled to learn how to teach via interactive and immersive tools. Even three-year olds don't just sit and play with toy cars anymore, but are completely immersed in video games. If today's 12 and 13 year olds can't pay attention in class now, then what is it going to be like when today's 3 year olds are 13 and 14? Interactive, immersive media is taking over in every arena of life and it something that needs to be dealt with by the older generations. However, the window of opportunity available for those older generations to influence this change is a limited one. The pace of change in the IM world dictates that only those who are constantly involved can keep up; otherwise, it will be the users themselves, most notably the youngest of generations who are growing up under these new dictates that will be the shapers, reversing millennia of human history, whence the older generations always used to shape the development of those younger than them.