Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Too much, all at once....(why the future might not be a plentiful and free as we hoped)

When most people think about the future they imagine a world that is nearly perfect. Long life, unlimited goods and resources and helpful robots on every street corner. But is this really a future that is attainable, or is it a pipe dream that isn't even possible? With so many perceived problems right now, it seems like this sort of utopia might never happen. In fact, talking to people about the future is almost a surefire way to bring out their melancholy mood.

According to a recent article on the surprisingly insightful humor site Cracked, one author has an interesting view on how the future might shape out and how, surprisingly enough, he believes that it's “Bullshit” that will keep the world running smoothly for years to come.

The author of the article begins by describing the incidents surrounding Nestle and its campaign for breast milk substitutes, which later led to over use of an inferior substitute which eventually found itself attached to an increase in infant deaths . The purpose of this is to lay out the idea of paying for a good that is essentially free and unlimited, simply because of advertising. Jump forward a few years and you see the same instance of attaching a price tag to bottled water, a virtually free good. And yet there they are, people buying bottled tap water by the case.

Granted, this isn't really scientific at all. Honestly it resembles a conspiracy theorists journal entries. However, add current technological developments to the mix and suddenly the line between funny and scary begins to gray.

For his first example the author showcases his thought on how the digital book will change everything. His argument goes something like this. A library buys a paperback book, within a couple years (supposing it was popular) it's destroyed and a new copy is ordered. But buy an ebook and it never has to be replaced. It can be read forever, over and over and over again. So what are publishers and binders to do? They don't want to loose their income, so they essentially have created a set up where an ebook from a public library can only be lent out so many times before a new ebook has to be ordered. It sounds like complete Bullshit. Why not do it the way that makes sense?

A. Why can't the library just buy as many digital copies as are needed for the customers, and keep them forever, if they don't naturally degrade?

B. Wait a second. It's just a digital file. Why not just buy one copy, and just copy and paste it for every customer who wants to read it?

C. Wait a second. Why do you need the library at all? Why can't a customer just buy a copy from the publisher and "lend" copies to all of his friends?

D. Wait a second. If no printing and binding needs to be done, why do you need the publisher? Just buy it directly from the author.

E. Waaaaait a second. Why buy it? Once the author makes one copy available, why can't everyone just grab it for free?”

So there it is, free books for everyone. Is that really a good thing though? There are a lot of middle men who have just been cut out from between you and the author. In fact, virtually all of them have just been cut out. Which lead the author to his point that business' in order to survive will force scarcity on consumers. Have a digital book from the library? According to them it won't last forever. With digital formats also steadily becoming the preferred form of watching, listening and reading nearly everything, expect to see a lot more restrictions put on all forms of media usage. Within the article, the author even describes the Blu-Ray disc as being the last physical format for media storage.

His next point looks at how more and more products have “arbitrary restrictions” in the form of higher prices. This is anything that you could get for free or at least cheaper. Case and point, aquafina water. It's true, it actually does come from a public water source. You are, in the most literal sense possible, “buying tap water”. Anyhwo, time continues and this sort of action continues to become increasingly invasive, after all everything in the future will still need a price, no matter how unlimited it may be.

Eventually the author makes his way to the topic of pirated music. I download music like it's my job. If I hear a song on 90.1 that I like, ill have the entire album soon enough. It didn't cost me a penny and I can go on saturating my life with indie folk music.


See, that's not the point of his example. What he alludes to is the fact that at some point, just about any job you can think of could potentially be replaced by a cheaper machine. Just like some musicians try to protect their “intellectual property”, it seems like some employees are trying to protect there jobs. IBM hires ten statisticians in 1980. 20 years later there is one left because of advances in computers. Same goes for manual labor. As technology launches us into the future there could very well be a disproportionate amount of once very skilled employees who are finding themselves out of work. Its like out-scouring gone sci-fi.

I'm sure that many people still think the future will be full of abundance and free from corporate Bullshit, but this particular author shows how it might be the exact opposite that could keep us from screwing ourselves over in years to come.


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