Now I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeonly old goat who refuses to embrace any new-fangled fancy-schmansy technologimical whatsits because they’re leading to our inevitable destruction – a digital hand-basket in which we are all enthusiastically riding to hell…
but oh who am I kidding, I quite enjoy sounding like that. Doom-mongering is all sorts of entertaining because if you’re right you get to say “I told you so” and if you’re wrong it doesn’t matter because nobody took you seriously in the first place anyway.
But with that being said, I’ll state for the record here that I’m just not comfortable with the level of dependence that new advancements in digital technology are pushing me into.
Let’s take music for example. It used to be, in the good ol’ days, we had to go to the store to buy music. We got a nice shrink-wrapped package that held a disc with a cool design on it and colorful liner notes with the lyrics printed out and everything. And when you took that CD home is was YOURS because you could hold it in your hand, and you could take it anywhere and play it in anybody’s car or boombox or home stereo you wanted. You could give it to your friends and get pissed as hell when they put new scratches on it. At the end of the day, come hell or high water, you could hold that CD and know, without a doubt, that Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water was yours to treasure as long as you possessed that 30 grams of aluminum, lacquer, and plastic.
Now we buy our music from iTunes and hope to God that whatever new extension and format it comes in isn’t packed with DRM nonsense that only lets us play it on one computer, or not be able to burn to a disc, or is a really shitty sample rate, or will commit suicide and refuse to play after X many days, or, worst of all, requires a connection to the Internet. We stream our music now from YouTube channels, Spotify, and Pandora radio. The music we “own” exists somewhere in zeros and ones and we don’t even own those. We own the right to ASK for the music to play, not the music itself.
The newest SimCity title released by EA Games requires an Internet connection to play the game. This is known as “always online digital rights management” and was incorporated into the game ostensibly to facilitate some number of the game’s unique features, but in reality, it was merely an operation to crack down on piracy. This means that if my Internet connection goes down, or worse, the company servers go down, I can’t play the game. I could own the damn thing, own a computer that could run the program, AND have an Internet connection, but if for any reason the company servers are offline, then the game will refuse to play, even though my operating system is perfectly capable of running the code all on its own, even without an internet connection.
As long as I can find a wall socket and some kind of display (tinkering with the input method notwithstanding) I can play Super Mario Brothers to my heart’s content any damn time I please. Don’t have an internet connection? No problem! Nintento goes completely out of business? No problem! I bought that game with my own money (given to me for doing my chores and mowing my parent’s lawn) and I have the right to play it whenever I like regardless of what state the company or my internet connection is in.
But if EA for whatever reason were to go out of business, then no more servers, no more service. Suddenly, everyone who dropped that 60 bucks on SimCity gets a big middle finger as every copy of the game suddenly becomes forever after unplayable. This is exactly what happened on the day of the game’s launch. Hundreds of people who had paid full price to get the game on launch day couldn’t play the title they had just purchased because EA’s servers were having some sort of conniption.
And I see it everywhere. Kindle asks you to forgo that bulky physical library. Your device can carry thousands of books! Yes, until your device breaks… then your thousand books vanish. Until you want to share one of those books with a friend. Until the power goes out and you didn’t charge your device up. Until (if your books are in some sort of “cloud”) a server error decides to delete your library, or until whoever is ACTUALLY owning and possessing that data is compromised.
If Armageddon comes tomorrow, I’ll be reading my copy of World War Z in the what I’m sure will be abundant firelight.
I pay money to POSSESS, not to BORROW.
Advancements in digital technology are quietly pushing us toward more dependency on the companies and servers and data that we do not in fact control. Data is now clouded, video games are played on external servers, programs are run remotely. Products are becoming inexplicably tied to the means by which they are purchased. What happens to your music library if iTunes or god forbid the great and powerful Apple is compromised? And the further we move into “virtual” ownership, the more power we place into the hands of those that ALLOW us to own. When ownership is empowered by that which is outside of my control, it is not real ownership at all. It is an illusion.
We are iTunes customers before and as a prerequisite to being music owners.
The more we move toward a virtual world, the more that money and time and products and relationships and media become a series of ones and zeros that exists simultaneously everywhere and nowhere, the more we must rely on the system that keeps those ones and zeroes moving. And because of the nature of the digital world, I think it is more volatile, unstable, and open to compromise than most people think.