Cheap Technology


Don't trust slick

It is essential that inexpensive video productions be legitimized as a form of global mass communications. The very style of the costly mainstream film and video industry supports a global system which is intent on replacing local cultures with a single way of life based on control by mass communications/advertising. (This was originally written in 1997 - before Ryakuga invested in mini-DV production equipment. Having said that, this rant still rings true for us.)

I recently asked a young program director from a community owned cable system in a Newfoundland fishing village to share his excellent weekly news program with other rural communities in the region. He was reluctant simply because, as a journalism graduate, he is all too aware that technically his programs are not as 'slick' as network television. His equipment is relatively inexpensive NTSC VHS.

But the question of technical limitation is always related to what other (more expensive) technology is available. For example, a technical manager of a million dollar university production facility tells me that he considers the best home camcorders of today roughly equivalent in technical quality to the high end professional cameras of ten years ago.

Small World's Undercurrents video magazine proves that important, issue-based global communication can be achieved with inexpensive technology. Ryakuga's experience of working with small cable television systems is that people always value local content - meaningful issues and celebration of culture - above technical limitations. As a rural community leader told me, 'I don't trust slick'. In other words, the special effects of our video productions - which is why we require expensive equipment - becomes the reason our message is distrusted. My experience tells me that the need for digital or Betacam production equipment is a lie; NSTC VHS video can be used on cable system, transmitter or satellite broadcasts.

I would suggest that video producers' obsession with the latest technology is driven less by concern about viewers' needs and expectations and more by technical seduction. What starts off as a legitimate desire to make positive improvements can easily become the same material consumerism that fuels a mono-cultural new world order.

By limiting access to mass communication based on a technocracy's demand for expensive machines, we are effectively silencing most of the voices in the world. To me, the message of such Canadian films as Manufacturing Consent and Distress Signals is that the global proliferation of North American television programming is simply propoganda for the mono-culture. A global communication network within civil society, such as advocated by Cees Hamelink, must utilize inexpensive technology.

What is to be done? First, we can lobby for support of grassroots communications systems, such as community television, community radio or community access centres (computer communications). Second, we can support attempts to mass distribute alternative messages such as Undercurrents. Third, we can examine our own approach to technology and ask ourselves if we really need to buy into technical consumerism.


Check out an article by Sherry Milner, Taking Control of Our Images-and Lives. If you want to think more about the concept that the global proliferation of North American television could be a problem, talk to the Adbusters. And proponents of not-so-expensive media tools do have support. Does anybody know what happened to Low-Res?

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