Sunday, October 31, 2010

The future - never certain

A good friend sent this to me recently, but its author is unknown. Enjoy - and let me have your thoughts too! (One thing does strike me right off the bat - this is a U.S.-centric view, and it doesn't really hold water when looked at in a global context. Like it or not, we do live in an ever-shrinking world, so I think it's important to bear that in mind while reading this.)

[Italicized notes in square brackets are my bafflegabbed, peanut gallery comments.]
British GPO logo
1. The Post Office. Get ready to imagine a world without the post office. They are so deeply in financial trouble that there is probably no way to sustain it long term. Email, FedEx, and UPS have just about wiped out the minimum revenue needed to keep the post office alive. Most of your mail every day is junk mail and bills. [Maybe true for the U.S., not necessarily so in other countries, particularly those where the Post Office is state-run, handles business other than delivering mail, and can run at a loss because it is subsidized. And, in the U.S., what about people who aren't online, including those who would love to be but cannot because they live in rural areas? Not even FedEx and UPS serve them - only the USPS does! Additionally, there are those who simply cannot afford to be online. Will the U.S. Gov't subsidize the rural and the poor? I think not...]

Check that purchased Alaska
2. The Check. Britain is already laying the groundwork to do away with checks by 2018. It costs the financial system billions of dollars a year to process checks. Plastic cards and online transactions will lead to the eventual demise of the check. This plays right into the death of the post office. If you never paid your bills by mail and never received them by mail, the post office would absolutely go out of business. [The payment system model is changing rapidly and radically - I think that even plastic will soon be history. But, as is often the case, this is a much larger topic that needs to be reserved for a different time. Update Nov. 2: Coincidentally, this appeared in Monday's edition of the S.F. Chronicle, discussing the problem of reluctance by banks in the U.S. to move to newer technology - again, giving me ammo for my view that this author was being very U.S.-centric in his/her essay.]

3. The Newspaper. The younger generation simply doesn't read the newspaper. They certainly don't subscribe to a daily delivered print edition. That may go the way of the milkman and the laundry man. As for reading the paper online, get ready to pay for it. The rise in mobile Internet devices and e-readers has caused all the newspaper and magazine publishers to form an alliance. They have met with Apple, Amazon, and the major cell phone companies to develop a model for paid subscription services. [I really don't think newspapers have much of a chance setting up paywalls at this stage of the game - that train left the station a long time ago. I despair for the future of decent journalism. Sure, the likes of the NYTimes will survive, but most of them, I fear, will be joining the horse-and-buggy set soon.]

Mmm ... paper!
4. The Book. You say you will never give up the physical book that you hold in your hand and turn the literal pages. I said the same thing about downloading music from iTunes. I wanted my hard copy CD. But I quickly changed my mind when I discovered that I could get albums for half the price without ever leaving home to get the latest music. The same thing will happen with books. You can browse a bookstore online and even read a preview chapter before you buy. And the price is less than half that of a real book. [Not true - in fact, there's a debate raging right now about the fact that the likes of Amazon are now charging more for e-books than their printed counterparts. This is being forced on e-booksellers by the publishers.] And think of the convenience! Once you start flicking your fingers on the screen instead of the book, you find that you are lost in the story, can't wait to see what happens next, and you forget that you're holding a gadget instead of a book. [This is a slightly naïve view - distribution and sale of content in all its forms is undergoing a sea-change. The primary issue in my mind is the lack of permanence when it comes to electronic storage; this, however, is an issue that goes way beyond the scope of this discussion.]

Who remembers how to use that
twirly thing on the front?!
5. The Land Line Telephone. Unless you have a large family and make a lot of local calls, you don't need it anymore. Most people keep it simply because they're [sic] always had it. But you are paying double charges for that extra service. All the cell phone companies will let you call customers using the same cell provider for no charge against your minutes. [In most countries, mobile phones are already way in the majority and, indeed, many developing countries have skipped landline technology and gone directly to mobile, giving them a huge advantage (no maintenance of an aging infrastructure is necessary). In some respects, there are connections here to my post a few days ago about centralized vs distributed organisms.]

6. Music. This is one of the saddest parts of the change story. The music industry is dying a slow death. Not just because of illegal downloading. It's the lack of innovative new music being given a chance to get to the people who would like to hear it. Greed and corruption is the problem. The record labels and the radio conglomerates simply self-destruction. [That's not a sentence - where's the verb?] Over 40% of the music purchased today is "catalog items," meaning traditional music that the public is familiar with. Older established artists. This is also true on the live concert circuit. To explore this fascinating and disturbing topic further, check out the book, "Appetite for Self-Destruction" by Steve Knopper, and the video documentary, "Before the Music Dies." [Here, I think I agree; I say "think" because the point is hard to discern. It goes back to the lack of permanence I mentioned in #4 above, as well as the DMCA takedown actions of late.]

7. Television. Revenues to the networks are down dramatically. Not just because of the economy. People are watching TV and movies streamed from their computers. And they're playing games and doing all lots of other things that take up the time that used to be spent watching TV. Prime time shows have degenerated down to lower than the lowest common denominator. Cable rates are skyrocketing and commercials run about every 4 minutes and 30 seconds. I say good riddance to most of it It's time for the cable companies to be put out of our misery. Let the people choose what they want to watch online and through Netflix. [This is a pipe dream - while I would dearly love to see more intelligent TV content in this country, it ain't gonna happen, because that's what pays the bills. And TV, quite simply, is not going to go away, at least not for a l-o-n-g time. Believe it or not, TV is a valuable cultural phenomenon elsewhere. See this post.]

Storm clouds!
8. The "Things" That You Own. Many of the very possessions that we used to own are still in our lives, but we may not actually own them in the future. They may simply reside in "the cloud." Today your computer has a hard drive and you store your pictures, music, movies, and documents. Your software is on a CD or DVD, and you can always re-install it if need be. But all of that is changing. Apple, Microsoft, and Google are all finishing up their latest "cloud services." That means that when you turn on a computer, the Internet will be built into the operating system. So, Windows, Google, and the Mac OS will be tied straight into the Internet. If you click an icon, it will open something in the Internet cloud. If you save something, it will be saved to the cloud. And you may pay a monthly subscription fee to the cloud provider. [Again, see here.]

In this virtual world, you can access your music or your books, or your whatever from any laptop or handheld device. That's the good news. But, will you actually own any of this "stuff" or will it all be able to disappear at any moment in a big "Poof?" Will most of the things in our lives be disposable and whimsical? It makes you want to run to the closet and pull out that photo album, grab a book from the shelf, or open up a CD case and pull out the insert.

[And there you have it - we do agree, after all! Why on earth did it take this long for the author to make his/her point?!]

Little brother is watching
9. Privacy. If there ever was a concept that we can look back on nostalgically, it would be privacy. That's gone. It's been gone for a long time anyway. There are cameras on the street, in most of the buildings, and even built into your computer and cell phone. But you can be sure that 24/7 "They" know who you are and where you are, right down to the GPS coordinates, and the Google Street View. If you buy something, your habit is put into a zillion profiles, and your ads will change to reflect those habits. And "They" will try to get you to buy something else. Again and again. [ABSO-FUCKING-LUTELY!]


1 comment:

shawnald said...

This post made me depressed