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Just the Highlights

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Just the Highlights

This is technological progress? Summer 2004
The Social Order
Technology and Innovation

The New York Times’s “Circuits” section recently offered a glimpse of sports in the future tense. Sharp Laboratories of America just developed a new way of watching games—kind of a TiVo for the ultimate fan. By prerecording, say, a baseball contest, and then sharply editing it, the system transforms the viewing experience, so that “there are no ritualistic warm-ups on the screen, no shots of boisterous fans or commercials.” No shots of the longueurs of the game, either. “Instead there’s a nonstop assault of hits, runs and outs.” The system, called HiMpact Sports, reduces a three-hour baseball game to an eight-minute blur.

“We’re trying to give the possibility to users to concentrate on what they prefer,” explains Ibram Sezan, director of information systems technologies at Sharp Labs and developer of the software. “We want to allow people to consume more sports because there is an insatiable appetite for sports.”

What a splendid concept! Here, Americans had been content to watch the ebb and flow of athletic battle, immersing themselves in aesthetics and stats. Now, all that can be passé. Sumo wrestling, the Times points out, has the greatest “speed gains.” The pushing, grunting, and grabbing of an hour-long tournament flashes past in just three minutes. A full National Football League game shrinks to 12 minutes or so.

Thus the avid sports fan can watch five or six contests in under an hour and still have time to nap, gain weight, or watch paint dry, whichever seems the most exciting. As for knowledge of the game itself, who cares?

This process could easily apply to other aspects of show business. Movies needn’t bother with plot, for example. A few murders, a car chase, a lovers’ argument, an apology, a couple of clinches, and away we go. Sitcoms could just have punch lines, sans setups: “Ladies and gentlemen, Mother-in-Law!” (Canned laughter.)

Poor old T. S. Eliot. He once lamented, “We had the experience but missed the meaning.” That was 70 years ago. Now we moderns can have the meaning (Yankees 6, Boston 5) and miss the experience. Way to go, HiMpact! (Eliminate column, run close-up of high fives all around.)

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