It was a special time: five exhilarating years from 1987 to 1992. The Apple Multimedia Lab inspired new visions for learning with digital media and generated new products to realize its visions. The technologies were ripe. Optical media — videodiscs and then CD-ROM’s — provided sensory-rich displays, movies, and sounds, that could be controlled interactively using computers. The Macintosh computer could deliver direct-manipulation interfaces at scale. The capability for movies, publishing, and computers to converge — once imagined in labs and discussed among professionals — was now flowing over into the mainstream. Experimentation and exploration in the Multimedia Lab were dynamic; the possibilities were endless. Basic questions about how learning happens were in the air, and major new digital businesses were beginning to create buzz.
Much as cubism or impressionism gave way to modernism and other artistic movements, the focus on multimedia computing has given way to other digital media fascinations and merged into the general digital experience of the 21st century. Yet the lessons of the “Golden Age of Multimedia” are perhaps even more relevant today, as technologies continue to mature and make the visions of this explosive time more and more accessible.
Then is Now.
The visions of those early days are now realities. The tools that were clumsily mocked up then are now easily and economically available. Hyper-linking and the use of casual media are now routine. Now there is access to an actual “magic box” — the internet — where images, sounds, and content are always at hand.
The key now, as it was then, is to connect the technological possibilities with visions of powerful new kinds of learning and to take advantage of these opportunities in the world of education — as has already happened in entertainment and in business.
It is time to revisit these ideas in the new context, to remember the basis for the instinct that the interlinking of sights and sounds could enhance learning and expression, and that it could be done routinely by anyone. The technological hurdles have been overcome. Now it is time again to consider the human side — the issues and the practicalities of new kinds of learning practice that were considered futuristic and impractical just a decade ago.