December 4, 2009

Is digital the end of possession?

Posted by Brice Le Blévennec

The first part of your life, you were collecting books, CDs, video games, DVDs on your shelves. Tomorrow, these same shelves will be empty, or even absent from your home. You don’t believe me? Let’s have a look at the changes in the cultural and leisure industry…

We all know it: the CD is dying slowly but surely because of the internet, whether the new consumption of music is legal (like in the case of iTunes) or not. The last step in this transformation, which will also be the solution to the difficult question of copyright, could be the already renowned Spotify, a new Swedish start-up that offers millions of musical tracks in streaming. The audio quality is nearly equal to that of a traditional CD. Their cunning plan: you don’t own the music you listen to (not even the files) but you do benefit from unlimited access to an immense catalogue for the modest sum of ten dollars a month.

Brice Le Blevennec, CVO

Brice Le Blevennec, CVO

The film industry knows the same dematerialisation trend with the emergence of video on demand, available via interactive television platforms. And now that iTunes, Microsoft Zune on the Xbox and the PSN on the PS3 also offers the possibility to download films, this process will be even quicker. By combining iTunes and Apple TV, Steve Jobs’ company follows the same philosophy as Spotify does: image and sound are sequences of 0 and 1 that are transmitted in no other way than via the network, without any kind of physical return. The medium is the message, one could say.

The same trend can be seen in the video games sector: major brands such as Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are all developing downloading offers that will probably replace the sales of video games in shops.

Last but not least, books won’t be able to escape the digital wave. We have seen the emergence of e-readers such as the Kindle by Amazon. Apple is said to release an interactive tablet in the near future.

The massive digitalisation of content and the following dematerialisation will evoke a fundamental upheaval in our behaviour. The consequences of this mutation go largely beyond the simple passage of the material to the immaterial. They change our relationship with objects: in the new, emerging worlds, we won’t need to buy boxes or books that will gather dust in our studies. Everything will be accessible via a computer screen. In the long run, the elitist status of cultural goods will dramatically change, as will the appearance of our homes: boxes will become luxury objects, reserved for fans and collectors. They will no longer be the inevitable clutter that comes with modern life.

And on a deeper level, this vast digital movement will affect the conditions of access to culture and knowledge. Since everything will be at hand, certain limitations and barriers (linked to the place where you live, your social status,…) will disappear. This will be a giant step forwards for humanity.

This transformation will also represent an ecological benefit. We know that over two thirds of the works distributed in bookshops end up in the grinder. So these new ways of reading will also be good news for the environment.

Brice Le Blevennec

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