A disturbing result of Media on Demand/non-physical media’s increasing prevalence: artifacts of the past are rapidly disappearing. Every era of culture in world history has left behind physical artifacts of music and media. Every culture. Ever. Imagine if even the last 50 years of video and audio could be controlled like this. All past evidence of protest…entire movements, could be erased from memory.
So it’s “kind of a big deal” that our culture is rapidly headed down a path that will leave us completely disappeared as a civilization, in the likely event that we completely destroy our civilization. As a pretty regular user of Spotify and Pandora and their ilk, I find myself constantly frustrated to find that these services, claiming to have “all the music on earth” have no record of entire groups or records. What has happened, practically over night, is that the sum of our culture, our recorded sound and written word, has come under the complete control of media providers. Our access to media has come COMPLETELY full circle. The average consumer now has access to lots, and ownership of little. They spend less than $17/year on music.
In the physical media era, content creators could not “unring the bell” of media distributed. Once a record was pressed or book printed, it lived forever in second hand shops, record store clearance racks, ebay, personal collections, etc. In the P2P era, users of these networks could access and retain a copy of any media they could find. That copy was theirs to (unlawfully) keep- whether it was still in “print” or not. In the past, multiple copies of primary source historical and culture information has preserved works, and kept us honest about what happened. Lulled into a false sense of security by hip-looking content providers, consumers are collectively throwing out their physical books, CDs, and records…literally discarding their culture!
In the post-physical media era, we have ceded complete control of our libraries to the distributors of the media. Not the artists. Not us. Not a second hand market. We have given these distributors the ability to edit history- the history of our culture. Now when an album or book is out of “print”, it gets edited from our history. Songs get silently removed from playlists, books get silently removed from readers, movies get silently removed from your queue. The sum of our culture is now subject to whims of licensing lawyers who get to live out their ultimate fantasy- making works completely disappear. A dispute between two rights owners in the past made works hard to find, but now it could make those works never have happened. And the “rights owners” picture just keeps getting more complicated as more parties get involved with the distribution picture.
By letting “the cloud” manage our media collections, we have handed a small group of venture capitalists the ability to mold and filter our perception of the past and present. And if you don’t believe me that good stuff is getting lost- try finding Orbital’s “II/Brown Album”, Aphex Twin’s “Window Licker”, or Gary Wilson’s “Forgotten Lovers” on any of these services. And don’t even look for punk..it’s like punk never happened. Go ahead, look. I’ll wait.
Piracy may have become a civic responsibility for those interested in preservation of our heritage.
“Vanilla Ice? Isn’t he that heavy metal front man?”