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Our Time Machine

H. G. Wells once wrote a novel called The Time Machine, it was published in 1895. This exciting little adventure featured a device that had power over time. Who knew that in 2001 we too would have such a device? One invention that has made it evident that we have reached the twenty first century is named Tivo. With this, one has the ability to pause, fast forward, and essentially tamper with live television. This gadget is, in a sense an actual time machine. We’re living in an age where the word digital seems to come into play with every new invention.

Digital technology includes all types of electronic applications that use information in the form of numeric code. This information is usually in something called a binary codethat is, code that can be represented by strings of only two numeric characters. These characters are usually 0 and 1. Devices that process and use digital information include personal computers, calculators, automobiles, traffic light controllers, compact disc players, cellular telephones, communications satellites, and now Tivo.

Most of the information we sense is analog in naturethat is, it varies constantly, and an infinite number of values can be assigned to the information. For example, the brightness of a light bulb dimmed gradually from on to off could be considered analog information. This infinite number of brightnesses can be broken up into ranges. If the possible brightnesses are broken into two ranges, then the values 0 and 1 can hold digital information relating to the brightness of the bulb. However, each of the two digits still represents a countless number of analog values.

The ranges of brightnesses can be divided again and again, until there are thousands of ranges of values, each of which can be represented by a numerical value. Once analog information has been broken up into digital information, it is impossible to perfectly reverse the process and re-create all of the possible analog signals from the corresponding digital signals. This is why most analog signals are represented by a great number of digital information levels. For example, the sound stored as digital information on a CD is broken down into 65,536 levels.

A CD player translates the digital information into analog information so that a speaker can convert it into sound waves. Some devices process digital information using a tiny computer called a microprocessor. It performs calculations on digital information and then makes decisions based on the results. In such devices, computer chips called memory chips store digital information while it is not being processed. Software, which consists of instructions in the form of digital information, is used to control the sequence of operations in many devices that use digital technology.

Tivo uses a digital video recorder and works with every television systemcable, digital cable, satellite, antenna, or combinationsto give the owner complete control over live TV. With the push of a button someone could skip that irritating commercial with that infuriating jingle. Or the same someone could go back and listen to a joke they didn’t quite catch the first time, or pause so they can make themselves a sandwich to watch during the program. It sounds awfully convenient. But what’s the cost?

As a result of this seemingly practical device there really is no such thing as live TV to the owner. How can television be called live when it can be manipulated in such a way? It can’t. Tivo can also record any program you tell it. Now, combined with the growing popularity of the DVD player, this can make the VCR a thing of the past. This will in turn put a number of companies out of business. Also as this contraption grows in popularity, what happens to the advertising industry?

At the moment the majority of people have not availed themselves of the possibilities of Tivo. But once they do they can make commercials obsolete. The advertising industry makes huge amounts of money off of commercial. Not only that, but networks make millions from selling commercial space. So if Tivo becomes something everyone has, what can companies do to get their product out there? The answer is product placement. Product placement is when producers present their product to the public in a strategic location so as to gain the most attention.

Companies most likely will resort to paying for certain shows to market their product. As they do in movies. Now Ross from “Friends” will only drink Pepsi. This is what the advertising industry will have to resort to. It has been said that invention stems from necessity. Is Tivo really something society needs? Or are we just trying to fill our live with yet another new contraption? One of the things the hero of H. G. Well’s novel learns is that tampering with time doesn’t always lead to good. The thing to wonder is if that lesson will apply to our new time machine.

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