Of Papyrus and Video

Too expensive to wrap fish in….

Ever wonder why Linear B, the Greek script, goes from right to left?

So do Hebrew and Arabic… while English, French, Italian and all western languages go from left to right?

Here’s a good lesson.

Pretend you were carving the words into stone. Now, grasp the hammer in your right hand and the chisel in your left and start to carve. Which way to you instinctively go? Right to left (assuming you are right handed, which most people are). Otherwise your arm would block what you had just written.

But pick up a pen and start to write. Which way do you instinctively go? Left to right, so you don’t smear the ink of what you have just written.

The technology dictates the architecture of the language.

An interesting side-bar here is that our numbering system is called Arabic numbers, and for a reason. Add 325 +242. Notice that you start on the right side of the problem and work your way leftward. Just like Arabic text. Right to left.

What does this have to do with video?

Andy Grove, the founder and first CEO of Intel said, “Listen to the technology. The technology will tell you what to do.” He also said that in the not too distant future, computer processing would be so cheap that you would be able to paper your walls with computer chips.

Today, we take paper for granted.

It is so cheap, that we do indeed paper our walls with it… or wrap fish in it. Or just throw it away. It is nearly free.

The ancients in Greece or Rome or Egypt would be astonished to see how we handle paper.

For them it was an extremely expensive rarity. One might spent an entire lifetime without ever seeing a piece of paper. And when they did, they handled it with great care, as one might protect a laptop or an iPhone today. It was, after all, the cutting edge communications technology of its day.

When one set out to write on a piece of paper in antiquity (and indeed well into the Middle Ages), they took a great deal of care to do so. They generally hired a scribe to do the work for them. The scribes were members of a very elite guild, and paid small fortunes to craft the letters for a special document.

It was an art form, and their work was lovingly done.

The rise of literacy, the precipitous drop in the cost of paper, the very ubiquity of writing changed what writing was; what it meant to a culture.

It was not longer a fine craft.

Writing became anyone making notes on anything at any time.

Just scribble a shopping list on a spare piece of paper and you have written.

Does it have value? It does if you go shopping and leave it home.

Video will soon undergo the same transformation that writing underwent more than 500 years ago. It is going to pass from being a craft practiced by a handful of artisans to something that everyone does all the time.

We all learned how to read and write in school, not with the idea that we would become best selling authors, but with the idea that the ability to write was intrinsic to our ability to forge a literate culture – the ability to simply get along in print based world.

Well, we don’t live in a print based world anymore. We live in an increasingly video based world.

And more and more people are learning to communicate in video.

They are doing so because the tools to communicate in video are becoming cheaper and easier to use, just like paper once did.

And so it does not really matter if the level of ‘craftsmanship’ of the average video maker is not up to the standards of the current video craftsman. It does not make any difference. As people begin to post their video on MySpace and Youtube and eBay and Facebook, no one will care about the saturation point of the blacks. It is no longer a craft. It is simply a tool for communicating ideas.

Like paper.


15 responses to “Of Papyrus and Video

  1. “It does not make any difference. As people begin to post their video on MySpace and Youtube and eBay and Facebook, no one will care about the saturation point of the blacks. It is no longer a craft. It is simply a tool for communicating ideas.”

    Michael, this really puzzles me. Exactly what type of communicated exchange is taking place on Youtube or on Ebay?

    Also beginning to post on Youtube?

  2. Nino,
    Come on man…
    have you been on eBay?
    It’s a marketplace and there’s tons of communication. I just sold my B&O stereo to a guy in Palm Beach and my Leica to a guy in China! I have been emailing with these guys while the bidding went on. Its just like a village market. same amount of communications

    As for Youtube, yeah, its just the beginning. There at 100 million videos now. Think what there will be in 20 years. Look at the explosive growth of email. Same curve. Faster, in fact.

  3. I think you are getting a little carried away with this communication thing. Ebay IT’S a STORE, a merchandiser. I bought and sold things there since it started, the only exchanges taking place there is money. I also believe they gave me some sort of silver star for selling a lot of stuff for so many years without any complaint. I would have to be a very lonely person if I use Ebay as a form of communication.

    As far as Youtube goes, I tried it just because of the hype that it generates, wasted an hour looking for something intelligent to no avail. I’m sure that if I had a lot of more time I would probably find something, but one hour is a long time to get communicated, there are so many better and faster ways. 100 million videos and growing, well, if you are lonely and have nothing better to do it would be a good thing I guess. The question still remains, can you support yourself or a family by posting videos on Youtube? If not why do it, what’s the purpose, unless of course you have a lot of free time on your hand. Soon or later Michael you will have to start separating the business side of video from the amateur free side, right now you are blurring the two together. I just can figure what you do, you are telling people that there a lot of money to be made on the web and then you keep bringing up sites that don’t make any money at all, you are very confusing.

    Actually Youtube has been helping our business a lot, the latest cry from producer is “please make sure that it doesn’t look like something that you see on Youtube”.

  4. Dear Nino
    It was not until I read your comments on Youtube that I understand how totally out of touch with the digital world you are. Your comments are right up there with George Bush and ‘the google’. (All of which goes to prove my point about Moses and the time it takes for new technologies to take hold).

    The ‘hype’ around Youtube mystifies you. You cannot understand how you can support a family on Youtube. (Of course, this is not the idea behind youtube). You can also not support a family on MySpace or on Facebook, both of which are incredibly popular (even more popular than your website with your 4 million visitors). How, you might ask, do you support yourself on Google or Yahoo, or even on email. As for ‘not looking like something on Youtube’, I can see right away that you don’t spend a lot of time there. Most of the stuff is lifted from network TV.

  5. Let me see if I get this one straight, just because I have many better things to do in life than searching thru millions of crappy useless videos on Youtube I’m out of touch with the digital reality? Or let me put it this way, would searching thru millions of crappy unintelligent videos make me a better and more intellectual person? Could you explain how? You see, it doesn’t mystify me a bit, I just can’t see the intellectual value anywhere in there, I’m sure there is some, but having to shovel thru a ton of manure to find a rose it just isn’t worth it where I can find it easily someplace else. I can learn considerably more in the equivalent amount of time by reading a book or looking at a well prepared and informative video program. If you find stuff like Youtube personally enriching and rewarding, I do feel pity for you. You see, I know where everything is on the web, how to get there and how to create it. I’m also intelligent enough to know what’s good for me. And I’m not letting the web run my life like you do to yours, I use the web for what I need and discard the rest.

    As far as Yahoo, e-mail, the web goes I use them all for my convenience and advantages and they definitely do not need my personal contribution in time or money for their successes. But investing hours creating material without being compensated would only mean that my work and my time is worthless, and my isn’t. If I had free time to waste I would volunteer to some worthwhile cause or I would use my education and skills to benefit others, as I already do.

  6. The I take it you are not on myspace or facebook.
    These are not TV shows, and they are not books. And they are not places to buy and sell stuff.
    Is their popularity (rather massive) equally a mystery to you.
    I am sure you would rather read a book. For better or worse (and probably worse) that puts you in a tiny minority of Americans these days. Like I said, you are definitely of an ‘older’ (and I dont mean chronologically) generation that simply does not ‘get’ and in fact will never really ‘get’ the web. Hence the 40 years rule.

  7. “It was not until I read your comments on Youtube that I understand how totally out of touch with the digital world you are.”

    You are probably right on this one Michael. I was born in Europe after WW2. Our electricity and water was rationed to one hour a day and I did not own my first TV set until I came in this country at 21. I’m at a clear disadvantage here, so tell me Mr. Digital “Expert”. Do you remember the two parts of my job that we discussed previously, the front as being the creative process and the back as the camera? We spoke about the front, let’s now talk about the back, the camera itself. Do you know what the gamma is on a digital video signal? You should, after all you are a video teacher, how on earth can a teacher not know that. Do you know about the color matrix? Or what about a knee slope, G phase? Black stretch? Do you know how to read a vectorscope or a waveform monitor? This is just a fraction of what I have learn and know about the component of a video digital signal. You see this, how did you call me? “‘older’ (and I dont mean chronologically)” can do all that in the digital video signal environment plus a lot more. I can manipulate the digital signal in any direction I wish in order to obtain the picture quality and look that my clients are looking for. This also mean that in my career I went from total darkness to learning the chemistry of photo sensitive material (I have a master degree in photographic sciences) I then proceeded to learn the electronic of the video signal and in my mid 50 I began my education in the digital environment. I might not have any interest in such high technically and educational enriching sites like “myspace, facebook or youtube but I can tell you that in my bookmark directory I have hundreds of sites that deal with the intricacy of the digital video signal and how to manipulate and take control in order to get the best video results. On the other end of the spectrum I also have bookmarked every possible site about every artist and their techniques including most photographers. That’s for the front end of production. You seen the beauty of the web is different strokes for different folks.

    Do you realize that the extent of your self proclaimed “video expertise” that you so much brag about it consist on your ability to turn the on/off switch of a toy camera and in your ability to surf the web, and yes, you also have the gift of being able to look at Youtube videos for hours without getting a headache or puking your lunch. You are a very pathetic expert, you probably can fool people like Cliff, but please know your audience before stepping on stage because in the eyes of knowledgeable people you really make a fool of yourself when you try to show off your expertise.

    Remember the golden rule as I suggested to Cliff.

  8. Dear nino
    While I can read a densitomiter as well as anyone, I would never begin to compare your level of technical proficiency with mine. I have no doubt that you are a far superior technician.

    The sobering thing is that as the technology gets increasingly better, it does not matter.

    I have people who work for me who are perhaps as good as you…perhaps not.I also have people who can take apart a laptop before my eyes down to the chips and make them run better. I have no idea really what they are doing.

    This degree of technical proficiency does not make them better writers, which is what we do with the laptops, or better video editors, which is what we also do. So long as I know what button to push and it works when I push it, it is all I need to create the product I am after.

    There is no doubt that even a few years ago, technical skills like yours were a necessity…much as the ability to repair your cars motor by yourself was pretty essential to owning a car. (How often did you change your own coolant or the sparkplugs). Sad to say (or perhaps glad to say) those days are behind us. Advances in technology mean it is no longer necessary to wire together a rudimentary computer to get online.

    The only thing that matters is whether or not an audience resonates to what you deliver. Its mostly in the storytelling. The technology for the most part takes care of itself.

    Its a bit like technology. I like to hand meter my photos with a grey card. I like to process my own film. I like the control. But I know many professional photogs today who have gone all digital and all automatic. I was with mike yamashita last week, one of the top nat geo photogs. Check out his work. All digital. Sadly.

  9. “The sobering thing is that as the technology gets increasingly better, it does not matter”.

    “This degree of technical proficiency does not make them better writers”

    Wrong on both lines Michael. We are talking visuals not writing. It does matter and in a big way too. Remember when you asked me once of what my clients gets from the $2400 that they pay me for a day work with HD equipment? And my answer to you was “more skills that you never knew existed” I wasn’t being cocky. For the first time ever digital technology allows us (the photographers) total image control, something that was impossible to accomplish with analog signal, not even with film. Do you remember dodging and burning while printing in the darkroom? Now we can do that in the camera with greater accuracy by manipulating the digital settings. For the first time ever we have total control of the image in front of us. Let me translate this visually with an example. All producers that come to shoot in Florida from around the world want to incorporate in their videos Florida’s, blue skies with fluffy white clouds, blue sea and white sandy beaches with palm trees slowly swaying in the cool breezes. The problem is that bright sun crate dark shadows and a brightness range above of what the cameras could handle, in the past attempting to maintain a quality image across the entire spectrum was nearly impossible, something had to give, we had to decide what was most important and forget the rest. Add people to this equation and you have serious visual deficiencies. Knowing that these are the problems that we we’ll be facing here in FL, we can now manipulate those hundreds of digital setting in the camera’s internal menus to give us details in every area of the image. We don’t have to spend time making these adjustments while on the clock but we can pre-set a number of scene situations and recall them when they are needed. This is total freedom of creativity, but you have to know about how the components of the digital signal works.

    Toy cameras have none of these options, I own a Sony Z1, a camera infinitely better and costing five times the $900 toy camera that you’ve been using, yet the camera stinks, it has little or no controls and has an extremely poor brightness range. Is nothing more frustrating than seeing something in front of you and knowing that the camera will not be capable or recording it.

    “The only thing that matters is whether or not an audience resonates to what you deliver. Its mostly in the storytelling”

    Wrong again and again Michael. Story telling and quality of the image share equal importance for a successful program, if not might as well put it on the radio. The story telling compliments the intelligence of the public but when the same viewing public spent upward to two hundred dollars a month to bring HD into their living room; this on top of large TV sets costing thousands of dollars they deserve to get the best that they can get.

    “The technology for the most part takes care of itself”

    Wrong again, If you don’t get it right into the camera you can not reintroduce it in post, is lost forever.

  10. BTW Michael, a densitometer is not an electronic measuring instrument, is an optical instrument for measuring the density of transparent materials (transmission densitometer) or opaque material (reflection densitometer). The transmission one it’s (or was) commonly used in B&W film processing laboratories to test the strength of chemicals. Color densitometers or analyzers was the same but for color film strips.

  11. Yes nino,
    I know what a densitometer is. And now, apparently, so do you.

  12. Dear nino
    First, I have just landed in london and am typing this on my blackberry, so I will be brief…for now.

    There is no question you have an impressive array of knowledge, but as the technology gets better, it puts the power of what you can do in the hands of ‘average’ people. It is suddenly less complicated than it once was.

    While you make an impassioned case for cameras, as that is what you do, you surely must see the same thing happening to edits and editors. Once vastly complex and expensive edit suites (and professional editors with vast reams of technical knowledge (crashed the I-square) have now been replaced by software…cheap and remarkably powerful. You can, perhaps, accept this for editing (ask your son, no doubt), it is also happeneing for cameras. Just like it did for 35mm.

  13. Once again you keep confusing and mixing your purposes. On your self promoting videos you keep talking about these endless opportunities to produce videos for the web, then you go off praising youtube and other similar sites. How does VJ mix with those sites. If the purposes of creating videos by using cheap low quality cameras and limited editing software is to get the videos on these sites than is good enough, but are we talking career or what? I still can’t understand your goals.

    Michael, you have this bad habit to keep comparing everything to what was available 15 years ago. Of course everything today is better than what it was yesterday, I bet the blender and the toaster in my kitchen is so much better today. I understand that this is very convenient for you in order to make your point but these comparisons to the past are pointless. Unquestionably cameras are better today but so is the entire television technology. A cheap camera viewed on a large screen HD TV will not look any better than a cheap camera did ten years ago on a SD TV. Keep in mind that the perception of quality is all based on the comparison of what’s here today, not yesterday. Indeed a small $900 camera is much better today that a $900 camera was 15 years ago, however, high end cameras have made even greater advances than comparative high end cameras available 15 years ago. The dollar value vs. quality for high end camera is double of what was available only 5 years ago. Most high end HD cameras today cost half of what high end SD camera did 10 years ago. And thanks to the ability to manipulate the digital image on higher end cameras, the gap between cheap and more expensive cameras is considerably wider today that it was 15 years ago, so if you compare to output quality of everything else that’s available today, by comparison the low end equipment of today are actually worse than ever.

    On your self promotion videos you also keep talking about broadcasting quality. Those cameras that you are showing are not broadcast quality. The term “broadcasting quality” is actually a series of technical specification for what constitute broadcasting quality for optimal transmission as set by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE). Be assured that those cameras are not even in the shadow of broadcasting quality.

    “You can, perhaps, accept this for editing (ask your son, no doubt)”
    Please Michael, don’t attempt to patronize me, if we compare our level of expertise on cameras, photography and editing I run circles around you, so keep it business and save your cute remarks for somebody else. I own a full blown desktop Mac and a 17” Mac Book Pro for editing with the latest FCP package, and I don’t even offer editing because it doesn’t pay for me, that’s only for my personal projects.

  14. Dear Nino
    You are up early out there in Tampa.
    Yes, the technology gets better and better on all ends, which is what drives all this.
    I have no doubt the high end gear is much better than it was 10 years ago. As Werner Von Braun used to say in Germany, ‘that’s not my department’.
    My interest is in the other end of the spectrum, and here the cameras and the edits get progressively better, cheaper and easier to use. All this means is that more and more people can not get their hands on this stuff and start making stuff. Some of it will be good. Most will be junk. It does not matter.
    And really they are no competition for you. As the demand for video expands, they fill the demand.
    I find it interesting that you don’t offer editing because it doesn’t pay for you. This is not surprising. Editing today hardly pays for anyone. As I am sure you are aware, many production houses have simply gone out of business. What was once a remarkably complex process with editing suites that cost a fortune can today be done on a laptop by almost anyone. Sure, there are still ‘professional editors’ but as with professional photography, the profession is starting to feel the bite of advanced and inexpensive technology.
    I have no doubt that you have the most advanced FCP package – who does not? And that is just the point. You can edit whatever you want at home.
    You know, when I started all this, FCP as not even considered ‘Professional’. Only AVID. (I can also remember when Avid was considered sketchy and we had to return with the EDLs to conform suites and reproduce all the edits from the EDL off the Avid in AVR3. See how things change.
    Now that change is coming to cameras as well as editing.
    I know you don’t want to believe it, but Youtube is but the canary in the coal mine. It is the first wave of what is going to be a very long and very powerful storm that is going to shake up the whole business.
    Maybe you can’t see it from where you are, but a lot of other people certainly can. Which is why I invited you to Brussels.

  15. Very, very cool.

    Reminds me of something I heard this week when Intel’s current CEO Paul Otellini was talking with social media guru Shel Israel. It went something like this:

    Yes, blogging is changing the way we’re communicating. So is other social media like video and social network sites. This is a wonderful time of learning who to use these new Web 2.0 tools, but in some respects we’ve been through similar stages. Remember, there was a time when we came to work and didn’t have a phone. Then we went to work and used computers. Fax machines then we had email come along. We figured out how to use those communications tools to be productive in new ways. Intel even took a big stap — back then it was a big step — when it gave laptops to employees instead of tethered desktop computers. The ability to work away from the office was risky by we believe it has unleashed people to do more things, better, and move around in life.

    I really enjoy your take on video. It will certainly become a more “normal” way for us to communicate, connect, collect, share and get things done.

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