Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Digital Media - Owners vs Renters

Over at the excellent blog Do Some Damage, there is an article today discussing the way in which ebooks and other digital media are separating the content creator further from the content consumer. While I think the article did make some points I agree with, some of them I think are viewed through a false perspective. I posted a comment there and I'll repeat it here, since it's fairly lengthy...

With regards to "owners" vs. "renters", I think it's more and less pervasive than one thinks. Every piece of software you probably use right now is merely licensed to you - you don't "own" it, you pay for the access to use it as long as you don't violate the EULA. Everyone who wets their pants over Amazon's proprietary file format, or subscription-based services and so forth should sit down one day and read the End User Licensing Agreements on the software they rely on every day.

Does the digitization of information change the relationship between owner and provider? Sure. Data on a hard drive or in the cloud is different than a paperback sitting on your shelf. But I can't take that paperback and make unlimited copies of it and back it up to a cloud server or put it on a USB key in case of flood or fire. I can't forget it at home and yet instantly start reading it where I left off on my cell phone. I can't lend it to a friend on the other side of the world with a couple of mouse clicks and a few taps on a keyboard.

And the best part is, paper isn't going away. I have no doubt that a hundred years from now, if someone really wanted a paperback (or "synth-paper-back") copy of one of my books, they could buy one.

I feel like people fear the shift to digital media because they think the content only exists in these supposedly intangible, magical will-o'-wisps of ones and zeros that float away and disappear as soon as you try to hold them. I actually blame this on the obfuscation of how our modern technology works by the change in the nature of how we use that technology. Thirty years ago most people who used a computer every day had to have a fundamental understanding of file paths, processes, data types, and so forth. Today, an iPhone is practically a magic mirror - you "talk" to it, and it does things for you, but most people haven't the slightest concept of how it works. I work in higher education technology management, and the degree to which people have lost the understanding of how computers work is outright shocking. It's no wonder these same people fear digital data - it's essentially sorcery to them, and with magic comes superstition.


Charles Gramlich said...

Excellent points. I so far have not made use of the cloud, and I save my kindle books to a separate file on my hard drive, but I know I'm still basically renting.

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