If it’s everywhere, is it special?

4553i114AB80206EE34C5Once upon a time, not too long ago, in the lat­ter part of the last cen­tury — say the 60’s and 70’s, con­sum­ing media was clumsy and cum­ber­some. It seemed that you had to make a spe­cial appoint­ment with your hard­ware to listen to the latest band or show some friends your latest pho­tos. You had one device for each media, and shar­ing and con­sum­ing media was not some­thing you did every day, on a whim, or eas­ily. You had to have a spe­cial place to con­sume your media. And you had to set aside spe­cial time for it.

Radio was ‘the’ medi­um that gave you instant grat­i­fic­a­tion back in the day. Every­one had one, or two, and had a favour­ite sta­tion or music pro­gram. The catch was, a sta­tion could only broad­cast one thing at a time. So if you weren’t into old-time polka music, you had to find anoth­er sta­tion to listen to, from a hand­ful, per­haps. We all had favour­ite sta­tions and pro­grams.

Port­able music was your little tran­sist­or radio. AM. The Sony Walk­man wouldn’t be developed for a few years yet. Apple was a record label that the Beatles recor­ded with. The com­puter com­pany didn’t exist yet either. There really wasn’t a concept of a per­son­al music play­er.

In most homes, the ‘liv­ing room’ had all the major­ity of media devices; a hi-fi (record play­er), a TV, and that was it. Per­haps the hi-fi had an 8‑track play­er or cas­sette. Home movies and pho­tos were presen­ted theatre-style — pro­jec­ted on a big screen (after recon­fig­ur­ing the room and set­ting up said pro­ject­or and screen). Even­tu­ally con­sumer-grade video­tape sys­tems were intro­duced, but still the prob­lem of schedul­ing your media con­sump­tion exis­ted.

Many of you likely remem­ber such things, maybe even you’ve used them or owned them, but I’m guess­ing that a fair num­ber of read­ers here wouldn’t know how to change the stylus in a turntable, nor the dif­fer­ence between Chro­mi­um Diox­ide and Fer­ric Oxide audio tape. Such were (com­pet­it­or) of tech­no­logy, back in the day.

Fast-for­ward­ing to today you eas­ily see the how life­style tech­no­logy has changed the way we share and con­sume media:

  • Movies on demand can be ordered instantly and delivered to any room in the house with today’s high band­width HD PVRs and routers
  • Pho­tos are rarely stored in phys­ic­al books. Rather they’re on com­puter hard drives, or bet­ter yet, on com­mer­cial photo shar­ing ser­vices (like flickr and Picas­sa) where they’re eas­ily avail­able, secure and reg­u­larly backed up.
  • The same for music, though today you really don’t need to store it. Rather than play­back from a phys­ic­al media device (LP, 45, CD etc) you can simply grab your com­puter and surf to one of the many online music stores. Or if you simply want to sample, it’s easy to use one of the stream­ing ser­vices like Groove­Shark or Blip.fm.

Once some big-brained hack­ers some­where real­ized that our media can be con­ver­ted into bits and bytes, things changed. Those bits and bytes can be stored, moved, shared, delivered over this series of tubes called the Inter­net. That music, movie, whatever is now port­able, and it doesn’t really care about format. I can play an mp3 on my com­puter, net­work-enabled blu-ray play­er, iPod, iPad, eBook read­er, Phone, etc… you get the pic­ture.

So now, we’re much more effi­cient at con­sum­ing and shar­ing our media when and where we want. There are many inex­pens­ive tech­no­logy tools that enable this, but are we bet­ter off?

Some days, I miss the excite­ment of bring­ing home a new album of music, put­ting it on the turntable and shar­ing the music with any­one in the house. That used to be some­thing spe­cial. There was a little ritu­al asso­ci­ated with open­ing the album, clean­ing the disc, and drop­ping the needle in the groove.

Some­how, open­ing a CD and slid­ing it into a play­er, or press­ing ‘buy’ on an online music store just doesn’t have that same spe­cial sense of ritu­al, that sense that ‘we’re going to listen to music now, this is import­ant, so sit down and pay atten­tion’. Some days, con­sum­ing media just doesn’t seem as spe­cial as it once was.

I won­der what’s replaced it.…I’ve not found it yet.

This post of is one of many I pub­lish weekly at the Future Shop Techb­log. Read more of my stuff here.

Published by Brad Grier

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