I can ph33l the future

Today I went to the Apple store to fix or replace my poor Powerbook, Stan, which has the temperamental screen and external monitor jack. They decided the problem was the logic board, and it turned out that if we replaced the logic board, it would cost about $1000-$1200 dollars, since we hadn’t purchased AppleCare. Argh, not buying Applecare turned out to be a big mistake after all… So we threw in the towel and bought a new Powerbook.

When deciding which model to buy, I was deciding between the model with the Superdrive and the model without… suddenly, I had an epiphany. I didn’t need to buy the model with a DVD burner built in. Why not? First of all, my old laptop has a DVD burner, and while the screen is fux0red, if you wiggle it in the right way it’s still usable.

More importantly, I realized that DVDs are obsolete. They’re dead media. DVDs, CDs, ZIP disks, floppies… they’re all obsolete, even if the content industry doesn’t realize it yet. Why do I say that? Well, think.

Who lugs around crates of CDs these days, or even CD wallets? Personally, I left most of my CDs at home when I went to college. My music is all on my computer, mostly in mp3 format, with some OGGs and FLAC files mixed in. I don’t know where my Discman has gone… I haven’t used it in years. I’ve been living without a portable music player, but that’s about to change because I’m getting an iPod mini with that new Powerbook.

The iPod mini doesn’t take CDs or Minidiscs or any other swappable medium. It’s a portable hard drive and is far more convenient and compact than any Discman ever was. I tell you now that the future is in data that is released from discs and floppies, digital data can flow freely regardless of what medium in which it was originally packaged, and the natural end result will be for the containers to disappear. The content industry is trying to hold back this future, by putting copy protection on CDs and DVDs, by trying to put a broadcast flag on TV and radio to prevent you from grabbing that data off the air, by suing gizmos like ReplayTV out of existence, but ultimately if that makes it too inconvenient for the customer, people will find their way around those restrictions. I don’t want my data to be trapped on a CD.

I know that when my friend gave me a mix CD, the first thing I did with it was to rip it to my computer so that I could listen to it, and I put the original in a safe place on my shelf. I don’t actually use that CD… It’s not the CD, after all, that made the mix valuable for me, it was the time and effort that she put into it, it was the letter that came along with it, it was the personal attention… a mix just for me. I think that in the future, as audio editing software becomes easier to use, people will personalize their mixes like DJs, transitioning in and out of songs, throwing in clips here and there… and then they will send that mix in an e-mail or IM, or bring it over on a USB keychain drive. I think the future is definitely in portable hard drives or flash drives.

Of course, I suppose I’m assuming a free culture future, where the digital locks are broken or companies have become enlightened enough that they no longer bother with digital locks. Look at Magnatune, and their Tuneplug idea, where they partner with a maker of USB thumbdrives to have the drive ship with some of their music on it. The customer can empty the drive out, put the music somewhere else, and use the USB drive for their own purposes. The container is independent of the data.

What do you think? Do you agree with my predictions?

7 thoughts on “I can ph33l the future

  1. Man… My iBook had the same problem last year. Fortunately though it was still under warranty, so I was able to get it fixed for free. But it did make for a traumatic several days without my baby…

    As for your predictions, I think you’re mostly right. The nice thing about physical CD-Rs is that you can give them away in meatspace without needing the container back. But for sharing with someone you know, or for sharing that can be done best online, they’re fast going to the dustbin.

    I think there’s yet a place for commercial-quality CDs, though. Digital sound quality is getting better, of course, but it still can’t match that of an original CD. But as the gap closes further in the future, this will probably only matter to hard-core sonophiles.

    • I was under the impression that “hard-core sonophiles” were still listening to vinyl. In spite of its inflexibility, analog still has its anachronistic charms, particularly in regards to used records.

  2. It would be awesome if this became true. It’s certainly how the Internet “feels”, and how Internet junkies think of data working — so that it becomes a crushing, kind of unjust feeling when you realize a piece of data has been lost because it was restricted to one particular piece of hardware that was destroyed. (I.e. the bemused, shattered feeling I got when I realized the only copy of something I’d written was on a floppy I threw away in eighth grade.)

    But I think in practical terms we’re some ways off from realizing that future. Once data storage becomes powerful enough that keeping huge numbers of redundant copies of *every* usefully-sized piece of data is feasible, then we’ll actually be living in that world.

  3. One big thing that your analysis misses out on is cost. A cd player costs $50 or less (unless it’s an overpriced Sony), some can even play MP3s. New computers with the space for all that music (if, as you imply, all our music is stored in a computer or two) cost at least $600, and that’s for a cheapo Dell or eMachine, and then the MP3 player itself is $200-$400. It’s cool and all, but to the cash-strapped, not exactly feasible. Which is why I on’t even own a Nomad Jukebox, much less an iPod.

    Also, as far as DVDs go: aside from the new (and equally out-of-reach) hi-def discs being developed by the “content industry”, is there any feasible, easily portable way of showing movies with comperable quality? Downloads of files that size would take days on the fastest connections, and each movie would take up hard drive space equal or greater than that of an iPod Mini(or Nano). It would be far more prohibitively expensive for people without as much disposable income than even MP3 players are.

    Now if you aretalking about the future, 10, 20 years down the line, maybe that kind of portability, bandwidth, and storage capacity will be within reach of the ordinary Joe. But for now…

  4. this reminds me of a wired issue a few months back. you know how on the last page they have a “found” page, except its from the future? that month, they had “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” only it was on flash media, the entire series (decades worth.)
    i completely agree that those are dead media. all of my cds are somewhere in a box, scratched up, because they fell of their spool and i have no use for them.
    i feel like that kind of media is destined for the same future that its predecessor, tape, lived: backup and long-time storage.

  5. Mostly agree

    I mostly agree with you Nelson (writing this here with the freeculture.org t-shirt on :). Portable media devices, be it mobile phones, usb-drives or what else are going to become a lot more popular in the future in my opinion. I think they are going to be direct substitutes for CD-Rs, as most people will have some sort of device that will be able to carry that data. The interoperability of these devices is another thing – even though the USB stick is doing pretty well.

    DVD’s are another matter in my opinion, they contain quite a bit more data compared to CD-Rs and are thus a bit harder and pricier to replace. But I’m sure this will change just as USBs replaced CD-Rs.

    Have a good weekend Nelson!

    Cheers from Finland,
    Antti

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