Books written by Ray Sullivan

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The End of Stuff

Hot on the heels of my article on Western consumerism (Tech Manufacturing Coming Home) I'm going to propose that actually part of the consumerist habits are likely to retreat in the very near future.  I'm talking about the next 12 to 24 months here, not some out of focus point in the distant future.

Now many of us are avid collectors of stuff - not just gizmos like laptops and tablet computers, but also the media associated with them.  DVDs and Blu-Rays are a major part of many a collectors home right now with bookcases and shelves bulging with years worth of collected special editions, boxed sets as well as the normal versions.  A few years ago we all had bookshelves bulging with CDs - well actually a lot of us still do but those collections are building up much slower now.  While CD sales haven't died completely, many of us are buying our music on-line and downloading it to iPods and other MP3 players without purchasing a physical copy at all.

You could argue that the iPod, iPad, Android phones and tablets, and all the other devices we have in our homes to store our on-line bought music are the modern manifestations of the CD library.  But then we have to factor in the iCloud and Google's Play cloud where we can store up to 25,000 music tracks that we own the rights to listen to - either music we've bought from the likes of Apple or venerable tracks sat on plastic CDs on our bookshelves.  If we feel the need to store more than 25,000 (20,000 with Google) then that's also OK, but be prepared to pay for the storage.

So really, the CD collection is almost certainly a thing of the recent past.  We shouldn't be too surprised, it isn't that long ago that we had bookshelves of 12" vinyl records - OK I admit it, I've still got some in the attic and a turntable in my home office, but I don't play them anymore.  And the VHS tapes were recycled years ago (I'm not going to mention the Betamax tapes I used to have).  Fair enough, there's no shortage of records and VHS tapes on eBay, proving that there is still some demand.

And let's face it, the argument for owning DVD and Blu-Ray discs is only for completists.  What you can't Tivo, Sky+, record on your HD recorder you can order from LoveFilm either as a DVD on loan or streamed through to your tablet computer to watch, well, wherever you can get WiFi.

I haven't even started to rant about books, either.  Unsurprisingly I'm a great believer that eBooks are about to overtake print.  This holiday season we're going to see an avalanche of tablets ranging from £70 no-name Android devices to £500 iPads with everything in-between.  Some of these will disappoint, others will cause arguments on Christmas day over the costs, but pretty soon half of the adult residents in the UK and the US plus our friends in Australia, New Zealand and Canada will have devices that can, among other things, be used to read eBooks.

To me this means two things.  First, we're on the edge of not needing as much physical stuff as we historically have.  The toys will remain, the tablets and netbooks, but the physical media will shrink.  But the second thing is that the future probably isn't iCloud or Google's variant.  I think we will see the emergence of personal cloud space that could link to our Apple iCloud etc.  So we could take advantage of the iCloud directly or via our own cloud.  Critically I think there could be a family cloud, where common media could be stored - photos, diary, contact lists plus, assuming the ongoing arguments over intellectual property rights can be ironed out, our common music and film copies.  Then each family member could have their own overlapping cloud space - like the ultimate Venn diagram.  And critically each personal cloud would overlap to some degree with your iCloud, your Amazon cloud, your Google cloud.  It would be a unique space that all of us will have, that we'll be able to access day or night from anywhere with WiFi.

Perhaps I ought to pop onto eBay, take a look at those completists buying records, VHS tapes, DVDs and Blu-Rays.  They might want to buy my bookshelves.


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