As Media Unbundles From Physical Devices, Our Experience With It Changes

You know you're old when your three-year-old picks up an old cassette tape recorder you have lying around, and asks: "Daddy, what is this?" 

But wait, it gets worse. I explained to my son Julian, "It works like an iPod." So he asked, "But how does it work?" I replied, "You have to put a tape in it."

So Julian went down to the kitchen, pulled out a roll of duct tape from our junk drawer, and asked, "Now show me how it works."

This event is funny yet revealing. At one point, cassette tapes and players were common, tangible media devices that everyone connected with. Before tapes, there were records. After tapes, there were compact discs. Now iTunes and iPods seem dominant. Similarly, the common media platform for films used to be the film strip, then video cassettes, and then digital video discs. The key point is that all of these physical media platforms were cultural and generational artifacts, and they created shared, tactile experiences.

However, the next wave of media access is cloud-based media and streaming. My two toddlers most often go to YouTube to listen to their favorite bands, like the Wiggles, and to NetFlix Streaming to watch them. My toddlers are growing up with an expectation that all media are available on demand, most devices can play any media, and no media need be tethered to a physical storage unit. They are able to explore more media titles than I ever was at their age, and they do.



This trend has huge ramifications for media devices, and for the packaging and marketing of media. But even more interesting is how individual and shared experiences with media will change as their tactile characteristics and physical bundling decay. Early signs indicate that the perceived value of media titles will go down as abundance goes up -- except in extraordinary cases.

For example, when I was 10 years old, my music collection probably consisted of around a hundred cassette tapes. I was deeply connected to each one of my albums, the artists and the songs. I cherished them. Today, my music collection consists of tens of thousands of songs on a server, along with access to numerous streaming services. I have far less connection to albums and almost no connection to any physical media storage unit.

Second, interest and association with specific artists and media titles will become less potent forms of expression as everyone gains access to everything. For example, when I was in grade school, people who listened to Metallica were Metal Heads. People who listened to the Grateful Dead were Dead Heads. People who listed to The Cure were goth. Preference for any single genre of music inherently meant that one invested a great deal of money, effort and space for a physical media collection. Today, where large and diverse music libraries are the norm, preference to genre plays a far less significant role in how people are stereotyped, or how they choose to express themselves.

How is your experience changing as media titles unbundle from physical devices and become infinite and on-demand?

6 comments about "As Media Unbundles From Physical Devices, Our Experience With It Changes".
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  1. Bill Hartnett from Consultant, April 16, 2010 at 12:31 p.m.

    As I used to say when my son was 4, "Little Bear is Everywhere." Tivo, DVD, iPod, DVD, even regular TV

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 16, 2010 at 1:10 p.m.

    I grew up with 78's and my mother's old record player she saved for in the 40's before she was married. Some of the records my grandmother had only had one side that played on the victrola. I hope your children get the opportunity to learn from where their entertainment hails and learn all the words to the songs that are now easier to obtain from all the selections. Have fun !

  3. Jean Renard from TRM Inc., April 16, 2010 at 2:38 p.m.

    The fundamental relationship is between the user and the content, the mechanism is not really important as long as it facilitates that relationship. The instant anyone forgets that you sell products and not art, and products have no shelf life whereas art does. The labels keep forgetting that and so the industry is in deep trouble.

    Clouding, ipods, are useless without the proper content, but I can always get people to hear and listen to an artist. That interaction is precious.

  4. Aaron B. from, April 16, 2010 at 5:15 p.m.

    This reminds me of an article I think was penned some time ago by Wired, or by GeekDad, where a father gets his teenage son to commit to an experiment: for one day, ditch your iPhone/mp3 player for the original Sony Walkman, and write down your thoughts. If I recall, the kid enjoyed being able to skip to any part of any song on the tape, but felt the entire Walkman's form (and buttons) were awkward and unnecessarily bulky.

  5. Brittney Powell, April 17, 2010 at 5:44 p.m.

    As a youngster I was very attached to certain "things". I'd be bummed if my tapes were left in the heat, if my records got scatched, when my vhs tapes started getting all worn out.. certain things like that. As i got older, i started learning that attachment was the seed of angst. Fortunately for me, as my life progressed, and this idea of freedom from ones objects began to take root, so did new media in my life. Yes, i still have attachments to a great number of things, it's human nature, but thank god i can at least breath easier knowing that if i want to hear that song from that record that i loved so much, i don't have to hum and haw that it was warped years ago and must be searched for hi and low to be replaced. Thank God I can simply sit down at any number of devices that either me or pretty much all of my friends has access to, at pretty much any given place or time, and pull it up from "the clouds" to be enjoyed again.. and then either let it go, or save it. no need to save it really, when i can just repeat the process should the mood strike me again at a later date.
    AAhhhh... love technology. may it continue to enrich our lives in way we have yet to conceive. ;-)

  6. Carol Lewis from Riverton Media, April 18, 2010 at 12:31 p.m.

    I have a huge collection on my ipod and it's great to be able to access it anytime, anywhere. But I also almost always buy the CD to get it - because of the cover art and the words and the information and photos & art inside. Of course, I'm from the older generation that had a zillion albums and cassettes. I like to experience an album as a total work of art as the musicians intend, better than as a bunch of individual songs (I never shuffle). The next incarnation will be something we probably haven't thought of...maybe tactility will make a comeback!

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