I remember when I was a kid, in the early 2000s going to Blockbuster. Some of you probably don't even know what kind of shop it was, well for a child was definitely heaven on earth.
You walked through the aisles full of music CDs, videogames and movies and for a couple of bucks, you could take them home with you. I loved it; however, I was always sad when I had to go back and return the disk. It felt bitter, like I was being robbed of my possession, especially for games that you can't finish them in just 48 hours. Looking behind, it was perhaps a normal child's behavior of selfishness and ingenuity of not understanding the right of ownership. The product was never mine in the first place; I was merely borrowing it from a multi-million company shop for a day or two.
You probably thinking why the hell is this guy mentioning this nostalgic childhood rant. Well, a couple of years ago I experienced the same with Games for Windows Live (GFWL) shut down permanently. It was a very buggy nightmarish integration between Xbox and PC. When it closed down, most of the content I owned on their platform went to Valve managed platform Steam, founded by an ex Microsoft employee by the way, Gabe Newell.
So, everything should be okay, right? Not quite, I said “most of" because not all products were transferred to steam. Mainly for incompatibilities, integration problems or simply there were copyrights issues, especially for indie developers that couldn't bother or have resources to do the transition. This means that in the change of platforms, I lost something that I rightfully owned.
It might happen the same while moving from one place to another and in the process you lose a piece of furniture and only when you finally sit down on the sofa in your new apartment and look on your left: “Wait, where is my grandmother abajour?".
By this point is clear where I'm going with this. We don't buy things and conserve them on our shelves anymore; we rent them indefinitely until the terms you agreed upon are no no longer valid, mainly because the business is gone. 10 years ago the discussion would be about physical copies of products disappearing for a more sustainable digital version of them. But right now, that we are getting closer to the first quarter of the 21st century, we are experiencing the sequel of what happened before. The issue is not digital vs physical, but more like ownership of a copy of something versus paying for a service that allows to use it.
I recently visited my old grand uncle. It was sweet, but I couldn't ignore the number of boxes full of VHS lying around, hundreds of movies, recorded cycling races and tv programs. He is a super movie fan, and he always proposes to me watching an old Fellini movie or a documentary on the Cold war. That's when I try to mentally fit all of this in my 100-foot apartment without transforming it into a deposit. Luckily, I don't have to deal with this issue. All my entertainment is on Netflix and Spotify.
But is it really an advantage? Not having a physical place where all of your stuff is stored. The elephant in the room here is clearly the never-stopping Cloud Computing infrastructure that is quickly making its way in every sector. Most of the visual content went from being on “cassettes" to “on demand" in 15 years.
Movies are mainly watched on Netflix, Prime Video Disney Plus, where you pay for having access to movies on the go but you never own them. This phenomenon is quickly taking over also Softwares, games, storage, music and even processing power. Businesses no longer need powerful machines or server rooms, they just exploit some from a third party services instead.
In a no much distant future, I can see how every single aspect that can be computerized, will be. Everyone will only need an interface, internet connection and money to have access to everything, very cool. Now the real question comes up. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Do we really want to concede the right to possess anything at the expenses of the convenience of access and immediate costs, are the advantages enough to justify what is happening?
Not only is a big save for companies and for the environment but also in the immediate the price is very low for the consumers. $10 a month for the endless amount of content is arguably bad. Everything is hosted elsewhere, not on the devices, making the service always accessible as long as the minimum requirements are met. Almost everything can run a stream of content, there are even smart fridges that can play your Google Play Store library.
By never having files on our end, we are giving the service 100% of the responsibility for our benefit. What if one day it just doesn't work, the network is unstable or simply there is maintenance. Businesses come and go at a relatively frequent pace and it's not guaranteed that you will keep your service forever.
Also, what about the used market, is shrinking day by day and it will disappear in a decade because of this.
It's incredibly difficult to give an unbiased judgement at the moment, but it's very clear that in the future this kind of trend will only be more and more radical against the ownership of content.
You could play your music tapes over and over in your car without worrying about an external entity to keep using it every day. After buying something, the product was yours, and you were the only owner and could do what you want with it privately.
The DVDs of a movie or an album are not just the mixture of silicon and metals that are made of, they can carry a meaning, a remnant of the past, a happy event and we are losing this for the fast-food of digital consumption.
The dystopic realization of ending in an empty apartment in 30 years with nothing from your life to cherish on is no longer that absurd, is very tangible and closer than everyone thinks.
I'm probably projecting a very skewed version of what it might happen, but we are giving up on the right to possess something for the short-term immediate pleasure. Is this actually good? Obviously not. Will it be catastrophic for us? Unlikely.
We should reflect on what to expect soon to not give up on the ownership of our future.