Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


Revisiting “Multimedia”

Posted on | July 24, 2010 | No Comments

The term “multimedia” has struggled over the years to keep its relevance but continues to be a major moniker of technological change and integration in the media area.

The name emerged during the 1960s and 1970s to refer to adding light shows to live music events and later when carousels of photographic slides were synchronized with hi-fi stereos and voice tracks for live presentations. The term took on new meanings in the late 1980s as the Apple Macintosh matured and hypermedia introduced the notion of linking various media content stored in different files.

In the early 1990s hard drives and CD-ROMs finally provided sufficient storage capacity for combining images and video with text and voice-overs. “Authorware” technologies such as Macromedia’s Director enabled more sophisticated convergence of different medias (text, audio, still images, animation, video, as well as interactivity) into various narrative forms for education, entertainment, or commercial uses. At the center of Director’s utility was the Lingo scripting language introduced in 1988. Lingo was an object-oriented programming (OOP) language developed by John H. Thompson that was designed to mimic spoken grammar. For example, “if sprite 5 is visible then go to the frame”. Lingo and Director became nearly synonymous with multimedia at that time.

I remember giving a keynote address at a New Zealand educational conference held at Massey University in 1994 on “Multi-media and Multi-Intelligences,” borrowing from Howard Gardner’s (1993) Frames Of Mind: The Theory Of Multiple Intelligences book. In that speech, I talked about how multimedia could enhance Gardiner’s different types of human intelligence: linguistic, musical, spatial, logical-mathematical, interpersonal and bodily-kinesthetic.

The popularity of the Internet by the mid-1990s disenfranchised multimedia from its star role, particularly as the web itself was less sophisticated. The early web browsers were primarily text with some jpeg images while audio and video were scarce and poor in quality. The fantastic reach of the World Wide Web held much promise for the future of communications. Multimedia still had relevance in industrial and scientific applications and in museums. Workstations produced by Silicon Graphics and Sun Microsystems also enhanced multimedia applications in scientific simulations and in financial modeling. Kiosks in malls and other venues exposed the general public to multimedia, but the Internet largely sidelined interest in “multimedia” during the mid-1990s as the web gained in popularity.

Macromedia quickly recognized the potential of the web and began to develop authorware that would use the language of the web – HTML- for more sophisticated multimedia websites. While many early website designers preferred coding HTML by hand on text formats like Microsoft Notepad, applications emerged like Coffeecup that began to automate web coding activities. Microsoft’s Frontpage offered a WYSIWYG application for those who didn’t want to bother learning the intricacies of HTML code and Macromedia offered its Dreamweaver application that allowed website designers to switch back and forth from HTML code to a WYSIWYG view. Dreamweaver has become the standard-bearer of multimedia website production and it has techniques embedded that allow different types of media to be integrated easily, as shown in this video:

Multimedia is default condition of nearly all digital media these days. As I write this I can hear my daughter playing a Disney game on my Droid X smartphone. Other applications let me play a guitar, watch Youtube videos, and do Google searches from voice commands. We live in a global society of multi-mediated communications. In future posts I want to pose more meaningful questions about the state and influence of multimedia communications in our lives. One of the first things that I want to investigate is how Medium Theory is being applied to study this new environment.


AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is the Professor of Global Media at Hannam University in South Korea. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas and was on the faculty of New York University from 2002-2012. He also taught at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand and was a Fellow at the East-West Center in Hawaii in the 1990s.


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    Professor at State University of New York (SUNY) Korea since 2016. Moved to Austin, Texas in August 2012 to join the Digital Media Management program at St. Edwards University. Spent the previous decade on the faculty at New York University teaching and researching information systems, digital economics, and strategic communications.

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