At what point does something that we used to treasure become trash? When is it time to let go of that which we used to need? How fast is something supposed to die and when do we stop caring about it?
Before anyone gets too excited about the context of these questions, let me reveal that I’m talking about things made from technology. You know, the 8 track tapes, the cassette cartridges (audio and video), the LP records, and even in the near future the CD and DVD. Notice how I’m only mentioning the really obvious formats of music (and video) over the course of the last eighty some years. Also notice how as each format has come out it has died that much faster than the last. In my own life, I have owned all of these formats except the 8 track tapes. I’ve seen them, but I never owned one. What does this say?
Well, before I fall into any broad cliches about the evils of redundancy, I want to point out why people updated in the first place. Obviously the most common reason to upgrade was quality improvements. There are obviously other reasons as well. For example, being able to record was a major advantage of the cassettes. Anyways, what is really going on here? If I really enjoyed my copy of “Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd in the past and I want to keep up with the latest technology, what are my options? Well, as far as I know, I have to go buy it again (which, of course, I did do). But, at what point do I complain about buying the same content on different formats? Never? Well, I’ve complained to a few people but obviously that didn’t make much sense to pursue.
In other cases I have refused to buy it again. My kids have a large video collection (due in part to my bringing back videos as presents from work trips). My oldest child is old enough to have VHS tapes from when she was little (since DVDs were not around yet). So, there are movies like “The Adventures of Pooh Bear” and “Cinderella” that we have that just don’t make sense to upgrade. Sure, DVD is better quality but do you think my kids really care about that? No. At least not yet. And the best part is that VHS tapes will just PLAY and not require 10 button presses to get started. Yes, it’s nice to have menus and lots of frilly intro stuff but that does mean that you have to force me to struggle through it just to let my kid watch something. Disney has caught onto this with the FastPlay option on more recent DVDs but it sure took awhile for them to understand.
The point of that last paragraph was really to highlight that sometimes the next greatest format is not as great as people say. If you assume that you are going to buy every new format automatically I would probably classify you for a sucker:) . I mean that in the nicest terms.
I propose that media producers wake up to themselves and realize that media owners (us) are sick of being constantly upgraded for the same content. I have videos (DVDs) that I do not want to see instantly made obsolete by the upcoming Hi-definition blue laser technology (Blu Ray).
Here’s the proposal. If you buy a recording or movie, you should have a right to play it for life (assuming that you keep ownership). If the recording or movie has greatly improved quality from previous versions, then perhaps it would be allowed to have an upgrade fee (much like upgrading software between versions). I think I just hit the head of the problem. The media industry is treating each medium as a new version with no upgrade path!
Another key point is that new technology will only carry existing content so far. For example, it would be hard to sell an upgraded audio format beyond CD since the CD is good enough for most people. Okay, this includes things like MP3 players as well. The clarity is so good that it would be difficult to find older content that would ever surpass its technological limits. In this case, any future media formats would need to be considered free upgrades.
The ultimate conclusion of this is that there will be no medium restrictions. This is already largely true of MP3 players and hard disk playback. The format of the file is more important than the format of the hardware. It is only due to the licensing (like iPod) that a particular media is attached to a particular medium.
Thankfully iTunes imports music from CDs very well and it doesn’t require me to buy a licensed copy from Apple’s music store. There are some concessions out there.
At this point it is thankfully time to end this monologue. I hope that someday a movement will form to demand digital rights back from the companies that are just to happy to sell us the same thing over and over. While they are at it, why not make sure that there are ways to accurately transfer rights from one person to another. With all the technology we now have (the Internet, high speed computers, excellent audio/video), it is all possible to do this an more. The biggest hindrance seems to be coming from people that have way too many vested interests. I guess it wouldn’t be right if it was any other way.