June 14, 2011

Paradigm

   Do you know what the internet is? On a physical level it is essentially a network of connected computers. On a more philosophical level it may be a bunch of connected people or knowledge derived from humans. On a historical level it is something far bigger. I titled this article paradigm to discuss just how big of a thing the internet is.
   A long time ago humans invented fire. Fire, as recent research suggests was transformative to the human experience. As you can imagine it provided a net of safety as well as the ability to cook. Much later it became the basic tool from which metals were made. Metal work was another transformative invention. Skipping over quite a few we get to the printing press. Anyone think the inventor of the printing press realized what his invention would really do?
   The point is that as humanity progresses there are these inventions that rewrite our way of life. The wheel, the plow, animal husbandry, the printing press, possibly steel, the computer and later the internet. Since the internet really has come about publicly within many of our lifetimes it's easy to overlook as something we just use.
   What I want to get you to think about is just how impactful the internet has been and how much it may will impact our future. And I don't want you to start having visions of SkyNet or any other dystopic nonsense dreamed up a fiction author.
   Let's start by thinking back to about 1998. In those days you listened to your music on your stereo using a CD player. There was talk about the new "mini disc" that was set to take over the world. For a few of us there was this new idea that music could be placed into the computer and saved as MP3 files. I remember the first time I made some MP3s from my CDs. It seemed really cool at first. After a few days it really started to bore me simply because I didn't want to listen to music in front of the computer. I wanted to listen to it while washing my car or mowing the lawn. For that I would place a stereo in the garage and turn the volume up high enough the neighborhood could hear. This was in part done purposely by my as a measure of opposition to most of the radio tunes that were popular in the late 90s.
   The comes along Napster. Napster, and later products, upset the music industry. It has taken nearly a decade for things to kind of level off but what the internet has done to the music industry is rather strange. People don't buy nearly as many CDs as before. Now people have the ability to buy only the songs they want instead of buying the album put out by that 1 hit wonder band of last week. People drop $1 for what they want and don't waste $10-20 buying an album that is mostly worthless. I know many of you have purchased a CD only to regret that the album was not what you were expecting.
   Now we have things like Google Music Beta and Apple's similar offering. These allow us to place our music on the internet where we can access our tunes at any time on any computer connected to the internet. This post was originally going to be a review of that service. These type of innovations are customer friendly but not business friendly. Anyone following the music industry will tell you that if a new album sells 1,000,000 copies it's considered monumentally successful where in the 80's and 90's that was considered only marginally successful. Michael Jackson's Bad sold over 30,000,000 copies according to Wikipedia.
   A similar change is currently happening in the movie industry. Over the last decade or so major Hollywood movie studios have been seeing decreased profits. This is, perhaps, due to the dying trend of home video purchases. This was another trend that peaked in the 80's and 90's with VHS and DVD. Movie studios prior to that did not sell many of their properties to consumers outside of the theater.
   Netflix is currently, and almost single handedly, changing the industry using the power of the internet. Studios, oddly, are not catching on either. Many of the largest are locked in battle over their film properties. Some properties like Avatar have been vowed to never be shown on Netflix. Warner Brothers has pretty much said they are in a war to prevent Netflix from devaluing their properties. The silly thing is that the value of movies is dropping without regard their participation in Netflix. There are many contributing factors but one of them is simply that people can get more shows and movies then they could hope to watch over Netflix streamed over the internet for less than 1 DVD a month.
   If Hollywood fails to adapt they will see more bankruptcy. Maybe you knew this but MGM recently finished filing bankruptcy. MGM has the largest catalog of movies in the world. Now that they are finished with bankruptcy and are moving forward with new management I fully expect that catalog to wind up on Netflix one way or another.
   I know I skipped other internet movie delivery systems. They for the most part are stuck in the old paradigm of charging people huge amounts of money to own a copy of a movie. When it is instantly available it doesn't really matter if you own it or are borrowing it only that it's inexpensive.
   So what's next? Honestly everything is next. Everything you we do will be changed by the internet. The internet hasn't even really had much time to change our lives. I know there are a few things that have begun to change but are not quite done changing. Education comes to mind. How many people do you know that got a college degree online on the cheap? Is there education any less valuable than if they had been sitting in the classroom? How about your homes? I know that over the last few years I have seen a number of changes in my home. My TV is connected to the internet. My gaming is mostly on the internet. My phone controls my computer over the internet (or my mom's computer if needed). I pay almost all of my bills that way now. In fact I have been known to complain that when I write a check it doesn't automatically update correctly in my mint.com account.
   One final thought before I leave a couple videos for you to watch. There is a small field of science that studies these transformative technologies. Specifically the study how far apart they arrive. The information they study suggests that these things come in half the time the last one came in. So from fire to wheel is time X. From wheel to whatever was next is time Y. Y=0.5(X). They say that the transistor was one of these technologies. That was invented less than 100 years ago. What I am trying to say is that for most of us the internet is not the only transformative technology we will live to see. Some say the next one is a universal translator. I think it will probably be related to the previous link. Maybe it will be both.
   Here are some videos to feed your thinker some more.