Too much choice (too much content)

A week ago whilst hypothesizing about what may or may not happen in 2016 in my very narrow area of interest I promised to be more frequent in my writing so I am happy to be back only a week later with some more thoughts – this time I plan to tackle in my own limited way the content deluge that affects us all.

So here in Tokyo this past weekend we were fortunate enough to have a three day weekend (三連休). This gave me plenty of time to tackle the mountains of digital administration that has been piling up for the last 15 years.

First task was easy – consolidate all the information spread across numerous – floppy discs (why did I even have these still!), CD’s, USB sticks, hard drives and cloud storage solutions. Once this was done it was pretty easy to de-duplicate the information and sort the important stuff (passport scans, copies of university dissertation etc) into a more ordered fashion and put that ‘safely’ on cloud storage.

Next up the huge folder of Zip & DMG (install) files that I had in my collection – after a few long minutes consideration I put all but the most recent operating system install files in the trash – I came to the, perhaps obvious, realization that now every single install or driver file I require is on the internet.

By this time I was feeling quite positive – after all there were now only three big libraries to deal with – Photos, Videos and Music.

First up photos – this is the easy one – no one else has my photos they are personal to me and easy to store – the only big choice is how / where to backup but there are plenty of options.

Next up Music – This is where it got interesting. Like most I had built up quite a collection of music in my late teens and early twenties (helping to keep Our Price in business) now all of it lay before me – mostly CD’s and a few Minidiscs (remember them?) too. Fortunately I had ripped most of this to digital format a few years previous so I could just trash the physical copies (although emotionally this is more difficult to actually follow through on – for now they sit in a tupperware box under my desk – gathering dust because I just can’t bring myself to bin it all).

The real question with Music is what do I do with my Digital Music Collection ? Frankly speaking over the last few years it has sat dormant whilst I have used Google Play, Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon (all at various times – which is best – well that’s another story but for now Spotify gets my vote) to access every song I ever wanted to listen to, as and when I wanted it.

So here I am in the midst of the modern dilemma. The first big decision I am forced to make is whether I accept that I am happy to pay someone else a recurring subscription fee to access music I have already purchased and already own?

The answer for me for Music is yes. Yes because it buys the convenience of not having to manage the library – ever, and yes because it means I don’t need to buy new music it just comes out of the tap – so to speak. Many years ago I read (and espoused) the ‘music as water’ theory (can’t remember who it was that was talking about it back then – well ahead of their time – if you remember please let me know in the comments section) and today I think it is safe to say we really are living in that reality. I pay water rates and I pay music rates and I get as much of both as I can desire or deal with.

This said none of the streaming services are perfect and none have everything in my personal library (and I imagine most people are like me). So it still begs the question of what to do with that massive digital music library from the past. Archive it, upload it to something like iTunes Match. The available options honestly feel like they take too much effort for too little return, after all If I haven’t listened in 10 years and I haven’t missed it how much do I really care? If I am to believe the streaming services marketing efforts they are adding thousands of tracks everyday so at some point the whole worlds music catalog will be on there anyway right?

So the status quo (no pun intended) is that I have a +500GB music library and thousands of CD’s and I dont want to keep them but I dare not trash them.

When it comes to video I think we are still slightly behind the music curve. I gave up on DVD’s a long time ago – infact I don’t ever know where my DVD collection is and what is in it – I just remember the disappointment when my James Bond VHS collection was rendered obsolete. DVD’s (and Blu-ray) made a bit of a resurgence in my life when my children were born as it was something they could pick up, shove in my Xbox and watch – giving them a feeling of control and being much easier than navigating the Xbox user inteface but apart from that we have been all digital all the way on movies and video for quite some time.

The problem that surfaced for me is that unlike Music the Video streaming services don’t yet include an all you can eat option that includes vast and almost complete back catalogs – take James Bond for example – to refresh my VHS collection into the latest Bond Collection on iTunes will cost me about £90 – and remember that’s content I already own.

Sure Netflix is awesome and between this and the other services I use I am confident I will be trashing the TV series files I have been hoarding all these years but Movies are an entirely different story much of the more recent content is individually priced and not available as a subscription. I simply don’t have the time or patience to try and index my collection against these services and keep only the ones they don’t have.

So the net result is that unfortunately I am left for the time being holding onto a huge digital video library that I am sure within 5 years will be obselete and replaced by a fully all you can eat video content subscription service. My adventure in going 100% cloud has failed for the time being but I feel excited that we are close – very close to not needing our own copy of things like music and films anymore ever again.

All of the above takes into account only the legal sources of content of course – if one was to hypothetically consider what can be acquired or streamed outside of this then of course I would quite safe throwing both my music and video collection away – so I can only hope the companies catch up to the Pirates.

On reflection last night, whilst browsing epic fails and people are awesome videos on you tube, my own experience I think highlights a few really big issues/opportunities with the modern world when it comes to ‘content’ and the way we store and access it that really need to be addressed ASAP.

  1. There is now and will always be too much content for us to individually manage – Streaming services all have at their core a fantastic database of content that is well indexed – this alone is worth paying for.
  2. However the way we discover content and find the proverbial needle in the haystack is just not good enough (the excellent Tom Goodwin has written a great post about this here) . This is why I ended up watching Epic Fails for one hour last night before bed despite being surrounded by oscar winning content choices – even I hate myself for that!
  3. There may be some future philosophical concerns when you consider another central power will be the one who controls all your access to information such as movies, books, music etc – freedom of expression is only of value if people are able to hear what you are writing about etc. Censorship in a 100% cloud based content world would be very easy to acheive and manipulate.
  4. There must be literally be Yottabytes of space that can be freed up if everyone made the switch to the cloud – are USB sticks and Hard Drives going to fill the landfills of 2020? What other useful thing could we do with all this storage space?
  5. How complex does it have to get? Right now personally I have at least six ways I can choose to watch content on the big screen at home (Through my Bravia smart TV, through apple TV, through Xbox 360 through Xbox One, through ipad via apple tv, through iphone via apple tv). If I take Netflix as an example – this results in six different user interfaces (each option is different) – that can’t be right!
  6. My children will never have the experiences I had of flicking through records and CD’s in our price trying to find various artists and albums before your friends bought them or renting a DVD from Blockbuster and all the excitement and anticipation that went with it – would it be there? This perceived scarcity of content drove up the value in my opinion – now everything is available everywhere (for a price) and consequently I wonder if anything has value anymore – after all when you can happily swap an Oscar winning movie with 60 minutes of Epic Fail, Office Meltdowns and other syndicated Youtube content then you have to wonder.

I don’t really have a conclusion other than the fact that our once all important content decisions seems increasingly to be sliding down the decision making scale to being choices we wish something else would just choose for me “Siri play me some good rock music please”.

Obvious exceptions will however continue to stand out – I would have been quite upset had I been given 2 hours of cats and road rage clips in 3D instead of the Force Awakens at the Cinema last week!