Multimedia – a narrowing of horizons?


A video presentation of this material is available here.


The internet and modern multimedia offer the gift of global communication and the capacity to share information, knowledge and opinion with virtually everyone on the planet.

These are the most powerful tools for the development and spread of education, culture and thought the world has known, yet in many nations general standards of education are slipping, general knowledge is on the wane and social skills are in decline.

How can it be that these stupendous technological aids have produced seemingly negative effects along with the plethora of positive aspects of their implementation?

I think the answer is choice.

The pre-internet and multimedia generations had few TV channels and experienced relatively rigid programming and timing. Children’s programmes were restricted to certain times and days, as were news, current affairs, light entertainment and religious programmes. This meant that as a young man, I was “forced” to watch programmes that did not necessarily appeal to me, but which (in retrospect) I realise contributed to my general knowledge, personal development and understanding of people, the world and its values. I watched serious current affairs programmes such as “World in Action” or “Panorama” (focusing on political, legal and social issues), light documentary shows such as “Whicker’s World” (investigating many aspects of modern life across the world) and social dramas such as “Sam”, “A Family at War” and “When The Boat Comes In” (all dealing with the fabric of society). I would never have opted to look at such programmes, but there were few alternatives and the thought of turning off the television never entered my head.

A further result of the lack of choice was that watching these programmes became a shared and social experience. Friends, family and colleagues were in the same position and this led to discussion and the sharing of opinion the following day, compounding whatever informative, educational or thought-provoking effect the programme itself might have had.

Compare this to the situation today, where viewers have the choice of a multitude of TV channels, internet sites, YouTube and online gaming. The young can easily opt out of informative and potentially character-developing programming in favour of entertainment, music on tap or endless series inviting their audiences to share personal details of private lives and possibly encouraging admiration of a descent into backstabbing, public bickering and humiliation – all in the name of “entertainment” and the advancement of fame and notoriety.

Why would the young opt in to something demanding and even difficult when something less challenging and more accessible is more readily available and probably better publicised?

At the dawn of the televisual age, and in its early development, opportunities in this new field encompassing entertainment, education and information attracted the most enterprising, talented and skilled candidates in their disciplines. In general, these were people who didn’t just burn with a desire for fame and glory, but who had original ideas, talent and had something to offer or say. They saw this new medium as a means of sharing their views and vision.

It appears that many involved in modern programming are driven less by vision and integrity and more by ego and ambition to succeed in personality-driven television, often taking minimal talent the maximum distance.

Of course, there are still many high-quality programmes and contributions from individuals, but given the exponential increase in channels, programming and the media in general, I think it is probably fair to say standards have been diluted in proportion with the vast increases in demand to fill schedules.

Quite apart from the ailing quality of some programmes and the resultant lack of challenge and thought, the sheer vastness of choice means viewing is now a greatly fragmented experience. In choosing what suits individual mood, character and preference, viewers may have less of a common experience to discuss with friends, family and colleagues. There is less to unite us in one to one conversation, discussion and debate. Indeed, discussion tends to take place online as individuals post comments and opinion aimed at the anonymous masses. Even sharing a reaction has become less sociable.

In terms of communication and research (where possibilities are virtually endless), there is a tendency to restrict oneself to a group of like-minded friends or individuals, potentially bolstering and entrenching belief systems and avoiding challenge and debate. It has become easy to opt out of or avoid topics and ideas that don’t appeal, and this attitude seems to extend even to education where students may be tempted to drop a subject if they encounter a level of difficulty they find uncomfortable. Stamina and determination are to be encouraged, but they are ill-served by the expectation that quick and easily accessible solutions should be available on the internet, and if they aren’t available it’s easier to give up than to work out your own solution.

Increased consultation of the internet seems to have brought about a certain lack of respect for knowledge (both on the part of students and some educators) as it is felt that information can be accessed on the internet, used for a short time, and then jettisoned (and sought again if required later on). This seems to be a rather short-sighted approach, however, for if knowledge is limited or not retained, students will fail to make connections with other facts or information (a process which is the basis of intelligence), and this will reduce both understanding and the capacity to understand, and will thus limit the ability to develop and grow.

Of course, substance and integrity still exist within all this choice, variety and diversity. We simply need to ensure we exercise judgement and control over the choices we make in order to make the most of the extraordinary opportunities afforded us by these technological marvels, but in order to do that, we must first be aware of the potential side-effects of our modern multimedia.

My thanks for taking the time to read this article. I hope you found it of some value.

Stuart Fernie

I can be contacted at