Wednesday, December 30, 2015


"Remember DivX? The idea that you would in essence rent a disposable DVD that would only play X times, and only one one player?"

The cloud.  I'm not real fond of the term, I think it goes back to a frustrated IT guy trying to get some middle management person to understand how internet storage worked.  "See, it goes to this, this... cloud, where it... floats until you need it, get it?"
Basically it just means something stored remotely on the internet where you can access it later.  That word is key: "access."
See, when you get all your music from Spottify and your movies from Netflix and your books from Amazon, your games from online, and your pictures are all stored on "the cloud" instead of locally or in physical format... you don't actually own any of it.  You rent it all.
Access means you can get to and use something.  Ownership means you control it and someone cannot keep you from getting to and using something.
This is a common misconception, particularly with younger people.  Its not that they do not comprehend the differerence between Access and Ownership.  Its that they don't care and even are slightly uncomfortable or contemptuous toward ownership.
See, kids know at some level they don't actually own the songs they built their playlist around on that music service online.  They just don't care, and further, they think that if you do own or buy CDs, DVDs, or whatever, you're weird, old, or stupid.
I think this is driven partly by the fact that so much of what they regularly enjoy and consume is designed to be temporary and forgotten.  Music, television, movies, images, games, pretty much everything they use is specifically designed to be enjoyed for a while, then thrown aside and never remembered. 
Quick, what was last year's number one hit?  The biggest song of 2014?  Who cares?  Its nearly 2016, that's so last year!  (the song was "Happy" by Pharell).  What was the hit song of 2013?  It doesn't matter, because that song was never meant to last.  They're all just meant to show up, be listened to a while, then thrown away like a disposable diaper.
Shows like Two Broke Girls will never get into replay cycles, they won't be big DVD rentals or ownership.  They're meant to be seen once or twice and forgotten.  Netflix isn't going to have a big viewership of that kind of television, no matter how well it rates now.  Its not re-watchable.
The big advantage for this with young people is that they can access a gigantic music collection for relatively small amounts of money - mostly paid for by their parents.  Its not like they bought that smartphone or pay for the plan, anyway.  And if the site only has a small, carefully selected array of songs from any given artist, how would they even know since all they listen to is that site anyway?
For me, one of the joys - and something I would try to play when I was a DJ at a small college station - was the other, unknown, lesser-played songs on big albums.  Sure, you know that #1 hit from Flash In The Pan, but what about this song, that's even better?  But if you don't actually buy the disc, and if the artist  just puts out studio-crafted repetitive junk, you'll never know what the rest of the songs are, and there aren't any gems to hear anyway.
This attitude of disposable entertainment suits the big companies just fine.  They'd rather you rent songs for pennies forever than buy songs for dollars once.  They'd rather control what you get rather than let you choose and explore.  They'd rather funnel your attention toward what they prefer rather than have you find your own way.
At present, the internet is huge and wild and free, you can go where you want and access what you want.  But internet service providers aren't happy with that.  If all you do is check your e-mail once a day, they love you because that is virtually zero bandwith and costs them almost nothing.  But if you watch Netflix while playing World of Warcraft and download torrents, you're using their product massively more than they are earning off you.
That's why all of them "throttle" heavy use, and heavy load times.  After school, your internet gets slower.  When you start downloading huge files or watching lots of video, your internet gets slower.  That's called "throttling" where they reduce your bandwith.  You're using too much, its stressing their existing framework to deliver content,
The tech exists, but is difficult and expensive right now, to simply cut off your access to sites on the internet.  That tech could easily and I expect very soon will be used to charge for various parts of the internet.  You want to get to Youtube?  Its just 99 cents a day!  Facebook is only a penny an hour!
Every internet provider is owned by a gigantic entertainment giant like Comcast, Time/Warner, etc.  They control entertainment and your internet access.  They want more of your money and more control over what you see and do, to "guide" you toward their products, away from competitors, and into paths that make you a better consumer.
Figure they couldn't get away with that? I remember well scoffing at the idea that anyone would pay monthly rental fees to play online games.  You could play Diablo for free, why would anyone put down ten bucks a month to play Ultima Online (particularly as awful as it was on release)?
Yet here we are, and people expect to pay 15 bucks or more a month - or pay fees to get full access to the game, buy content, and get goodies.  What will you do if all the internet providers start charging extra to go to your favorite sites?  Rebel and stop going to social media?  Refuse to shop on Amazon because of the surcharge?
Paying to access what you ought to own personally carries other costs as well.  I recently found a few minor errors in my latest novel Life Unworthy.  Do I change them in the ebook and POD versions, or leave them as is?  The purist in me says leave it, because that edition is what people have bought.  The editor and perfectionist says "fix it and get it right."  I did just that with Snowberry's Veil, uploading an entirely new version with significant editing and additional parts.
If I correct these errors, then the book you bought won't be the book you now own in your reader.  It will be changed next time you connect to fix the errors.  The book will be more perfect, but it won't be what you bought and read.
What if someone decides a book has a bad word or phrase, or concept in it?  What if some political group or another doesn't care for the content of a book?  What if an author changes their mind on a topic and wants to fix that?  You don't own ebooks.  They are subject to change by the author or even the company that published them or sells them.
What you don't own, another may change or take away.  And your online content isn't forever.  For example, the website Blip had reviews and information on thousands of shows, movies, and more.  They went out of business, and all that... disappeared.
I like to own physical, actual copies of everything.  I am deeply frustrated by Skyrim's decision to go through Steam so that I cannot play the game without online access.  I don't like downloading expansions for World of Warcraft, I like owning a box.  I don't want to "buy" films and songs online, I want to have something I can hold in my hand.
And not having that means you don't actually own it.

1 comment:

Jonathan Cook said...

Yes, lots to think about as things change out from under us. Related to your ideas on the increasingly ephemeral nature of music in particular, William Gibson (of cyberpunk fame) had an interesting take: that, outside of radio, in the past music was shared by physically exchanging it, so people (even the hipsters always looking for the next thing) had more vested in it. Here's a link to that interview: