“We are flooded by a torrent of communication in contemporary society,” Pool writes, “and yet we hear everywhere that there is a breakdown in communication. The average citizen spends more than four hours a day with mass media, while increasingly he doubts that his government listens to him or that what it tells him is credible.... One situation that clearly reduces the citizen's sense of potency is that the flood of communication is one way. The citizen watches TV, reads newspapers, and listens to radio, but he has no way of talking back. He hears, but he is not heard. At least that is the way that he feels.”
But now new communication technologies have appeared within our line of sight that may end the domination of mass media in communication, help close the gap of alienation, and resolve the crisis of confidence. These technologies, based on the computer, the videorecorder, and, especially, cable TV, promise to permit individualized communication to become economically competitive with mass communication.
More than 10 percent of the television sets in the United States are now receiving via cable, and the number goes up by several million a year: we are entering a period when broadband channels into the home will be numerous and when two-way feedback will be possible. This book examines what two-way cable communication could mean—what services it might provide, how long and how much money it may take to provide them, and what technologies are available for the purpose.
Six of the fifteen papers in the book were originally written as background papers for the Sloan Commission on Cable Communications. Others appear here for the first time. They range over the social sciences and the relevant engineering sciences and cover a variety of viewpoints, some directly opposed. And they examine the prospects of two-way communication in the arenas of politics, commerce, education, entertainment, and citizen feedback generally.
The papers outline the options available for arriving at policies and standards in the development of a national communications system that would be technically and economically feasible – given the finite nature of available bandwidths and funds – as well as readily and equitably accessible to the largest number of groups. The first section of the book places cable TV in its multichanneled social context; the second section deals with the technology and economics of the system; the final section explores the possibilities of interactive two-way cable communication and the ways it can be used to encourage group dialogue and register social choice.