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The Information Superhighway: The Fire Hose and the Funnel

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This is the second in a three-part series sponsored by Samsung that covers the evolution of technology and sports.  In this phase, I will look at the changes in information accessibility, presentation, and management.

Let's start with an example:


It's been nearly a quarter century since the Sugar Vols gave Tennessee fans one of their strongest football memories ever.  In 1986, television broadcasting had basically matured to the level we even see nowadays, with only some relatively minor advancements: the screen quality was good enough to view comfortably, field position and presnap alignments were easily recognizable, announcers had largely the same amount of liberty for real-time commentary, and the routine of two guys in a booth and some yokel on the sideline had been cemented into the media canon of can-only-do-it-this-way-isms.  But when compared to more recent video ...


... you instantly see a few differences.  Along with increased resolution, the camera zoom has been pulled back a bit.  Theoretically, you can see more of the play, but in reality, the zoom pullback was instituted to allow more 'stuff' to be thrown on the screen.  Go back and look at the first video again; not the complete lack of score, game clock, and advertisements on the screen during the action.    In the second video, we see that increased technology has not been used to give us more game to see, but rather more information to process.  Some things, like scoreboards, are relevant to the game at hand; other things like ads are simply revenue makers and only related insofar as the advertiser is paying the television company to place a logo on the screen (or, in more recent moves, superimposed on the field).

It's all clutter, and it's all available because information technology has advanced to the point where such edits of the films are incredibly easy to do in real time.  And it's not just on television that we see the information overload; you get it on the 'net (even we have a plethora of ads on the site) and live at the stadium (take a look around the stadium next time and count the digital ads that are up at any point in time).  Beyond advertisements, we have instantly available stats, scores, opinions, commentary, video, audio, recaps, ... you name it.  Information is everywhere and available to a level that could only be dreamed of a mere 24 years ago

With this much information, we as consumers are now faced with exactly the opposite dilemma we had back during the Sugar Vols era.  Rather than wait for the evening sports report or the morning paper to find out the scores in the PAC-10, we see it emblazoned on the running ticker that occupies the bottom inch or two of our television or we access it with a couple of clicks online.  Or we simply wait for somebody to make a real-time comment in a chat window.  What used to be something we waited for without thought is now something that is so readily available that we really can't avoid it.

Think about it: when was the last time you tried to DVR a game and watch it later?  How much effort did it take to avoid being told the outcome before you viewed it?  Did you turn your phone off?  Did you stay logged out of your email?  Did you avoid so much as a peek at any TVs at restaurants, electronics stores, and the like?  It's actually harder to avoid the information today than it was to get the information in 1986.

Which brings us to information management.

The overload is simply the first step in the technology advancement we've see.  Now we are in an era where technology is finding ways to manage the information into streams that we can actually handle and process.  Boolean searches are a prime example: I've actually kept tabs on high school football games this year by using selective search terms in Twitter to get live tweets from the events.  (Seriously; I did this when Bearden played West because I was visiting some friends whose kids went to West and Bearden featured Devrin Young.)  The same basic process can be used to filter down other media; if we're only interested in top 25 scores, ESPN is more than happy to filter the list of games. 

Information filtering is not a new process, but it's one that has only begun to be explored in relation to the new media age we're in.  (Media = the media by which information is conveyed, not the more normal sense of journalism.)  Just as Boolean searches can transform Google from a featured result engine to a tool with amazingly precise search capabilities, the means to develop keyword or keycode filters for any form of data already exists; it just hasn't been fully matured into usable form yet.  But it's conceivable to create filters that (for example) can take an incoming television signal, recognize the ads and banners and scoreboards, then filter those out and replace the space with a best approximation of the field behind the screen add-ons.  It's just a different kind of data management, but the principles are identical.  If properly refined, such a filter could re-open the screen and allow for a reasonable view of the entire field of play again.  (If you think I'm crazy, realize that your brain already does this.  It may not be 100% effective, but the same filtering that your brain uses can be modeled into a digital process and eventually refined beyond the mind's ability to filter.)

Just imagine that second video above without all the information overhead.

See, there's a whole world of opportunity for data management, and I think we're just barely beginning to realize its potential.  Once the people who write Firefox add-ons and smart phone apps begin to dig their claws into on-demand data processing, you'll soon see a world where information is only there as you wish.