Posted by: Andrew | February 23, 2009

The end of the ownership society

The great American dream turns out to be nothing more than a hallucination fueled by an overabundant supply of debt and Wall Street sleight-of-hand. The prospect of home and car ownership has vanished for many. It seems almost natural that the end of media ownership follows close behind.

Only, this ownership decline has less to do with a lack of credit and more to do with the mounting inefficiencies of a material-based society. Online, see, we can accessall the music, video and text we desire without burdening ourselves with paying for a licensed copy, which is often ephemeral (even if in mp3/4 format) and bogged down by pesky DRM. I can imagine why someone would pay for vinyl: it lasts, it’s big and beautiful anjd weighty, it’s collectible. But why shell out even $0.99 for an mp3 file that may or may not transfer seamlessly between players, or that might just as easily vanish when you spill your beer on your backup hard drive? Digital content is just too damn hard to keep track of. Pay a monthly subscription fee for infinite access to all the media you need, on a range of devices, anywhere with a Web connection.

Terry McBride, CEO of Nettwerk Music Group, believes scubscription services herald the demise of the paid download. In many ways, I hope he’s right. Score another point for the cloud

I often think, what will the cloud mean for our values as a materialistic, post-industrial society? If we access our content via subscription, does that make us less concerned with material value, since no one ever really owns their music, videos, or movies? What would a record company look like in the digital music cloud?

As an always-on society, we are impatient and despise the inconveniences and incompatibilities that come with owning digtial files and having constantly to keep track of them. If managed correctly, the cloud promises universal compatibility and universal access, without the impedning doom of having your files suddenly erased by a buggy iPod or an outdated iBook.

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