What is multimedia?

Multimedia is the use of a computer to present and combine text, graphics, audio, and video with links and tools that let the user navigate, interact, create, and communicate.

This definition contains four components essential to multimedia. First, there must be computer to coordinate what you se and hear, and to interact with. Second, there must be links that connect the information. Third, there must be navigational tools that let you traverse the web of connected information. Finally, since multimedia is not a spectator sport, there must be ways for you to gather, process, and communicate your own information and ideas.

If one of these components is missing, you do not have multimedia. For example, if you have no computer to provide interactivity, you have mixed media, not multimedia. If there are no links to provide a sense of structure and dimension, you have a bookshelf, not multimedia. If there are no navigational tools to let you decide the course of action, you have a movie, not multimedia. If cannot create and contribute your own ideas, you have a television, not multimedia.

Why is it important?

Multimedia is fast emerging as a basic skill that will be as important to life in the twenty-first century as reading is now. In fact, multimedia is changing the nature of reading itself. Instead of limiting you to the linear presentation of text as printed in books, multimedia makes reading dynamic by giving words an important new dimension. In addition to conveying meaning, words in multimedia serve as triggers that readers can use to expand the text in order to learn more about a topic. This is accomplished not only by providing more text but by bringing it to life with sound, pictures, music, and video.

The more you learn about multimedia, the more books pale by comparison. For example, suppose you read a lengthy document and want to refer back to the page on which a certain idea was mentioned. You check the index, but the topic you want is not listed. A multimedia document can be searched automatically to find any topic or combination of topics, whole a printed book makes this almost impossible. In fact, a multimedia document can refer not only to information within itself, but also to all the other documents to which it has been linked, and to all the documents to which they have been linked. Multimedia uses links to let you navigate the universe of connected information at the speed of light. Comparing this global network of multimedia to our highway system that lets motorists travel almost anywhere, the U.S. government has labelled it the information superhighway.

Multimedia is highly effective. As Computer Technology Research (CTR) reports, people retain only 20% of what they see and 30% of what they hear. But they remember 50% of what they see and hear, and as much as 80% of what they see, hear, and do simultaneously. That is why multimedia provides such a powerful tool for teaching and learning. Multimedia will help spread the information age to millions of people who have not yet used a computer.