This installment of Insights is brought to you by Tipalti.
This past couple of weeks, I lost a lot of weight. I mean, literally, tons of weight.
I moved in with my girlfriend of the past 2.5 years (yes, thank you, thank you). Along the way, I dispensed with most of the furniture, housewares, personal belongings, and general stuff that I’d inexplicably but inexorably managed to accrue over the years. Most notably, I gave away a couple thousand CDs, 400 DVDs, 300 cassette tapes, a few hundred books, and a couple dozen video games.
Oh, I kept some treasures — many of them heirlooms from beloved ancestors, even books by or about one of them. And I still have an insanely large number of blank notebooks and art supplies.
Going Full KonMari
But after years of gathering and tucking things away — especially media and tech gadgets of all kinds — I went full KonMari. I am now embracing a pretty-much-digital-only life. (Let me give a shoutout to actor/emerging influencer/social-media consultant Brandon Kappen for some timely help at the end).
As I survey the remarkably wide-open landscape of my life, however, I’m starting to wonder how our interactions with others will evolve as more of us dispose of the physical markers of our taste, culture, and interest. How are we going to discover what everyone else cares about, and show what we care about when it’s all up in the etherwebz?
For instance, how are you going to subtly show how smart you are to that cute human of your preference while reading on your cell phone or iPad? You won’t be able to triangulate the party host’s music and film interests from the spines of their media holdings (“You have The Replacements? I love the ‘Mats!”) Swapping Spotify playlists just isn’t quite the same.
Yes, I feel a lot lighter — both metaphorically and physically (the arduous process of moving numerous truckloads of stuff to Goodwill and many bag loads more to the dumpster has me down to my lowest weight in many years).
And I can sip daily from endless gushing fountains of content of nearly every sort. I don’t have to dig it out of a bookshelf or bin. Even better, I don’t have to move those bins and shelves anymore. My back is very happy about that — if not about everything else I did to it the past couple of weeks. The price: either what I consider dirt-cheap subscriptions or in many cases nothing at all.
Sipping Digital Content From The Firehose
Want to watch a movie or TV show? I’ve not watched much broadcast TV except for live sports in a long while. But I’ve had Netflix and Amazon Prime for years. My girlfriend has Hulu, HBO, and Showtime. I have more video than I can watch.
Music? Wading through those 2,000 unalphabetized CDs was ridiculous. Apple Music and Spotify make it easy for me to discover or rediscover artists on a near-daily basis, a source of great joy. I can also stream live radio like Santa Monica’s influential public station KCRW-FM. Throw in podcasts (you know, like Bloom in Tech), and there’s plenty to listen to.
If I want to read, well, I have a surfeit of options here, too. Amazon Prime gives away a book a month, plus other deals. Apple Books has pretty much everything, too, and its own deals, and News+ is working for me (if not for many publishers). BookBub spotlights daily deals in my preferred genres, including occasional free books. And local libraries provide lots of free digital content these days, like the audiobooks and ebooks I borrow through Libby, or the indie and foreign films I watch on Kanopy.
And video games? As I’ve written previously here, we’re about to have the kind of land rush in streaming game services that we’ve seen in video. I’m looking forward to Apple’s Arcade service, but Google, Steam, Microsoft, and others are providing a lot of options here too.
Importantly, however, all of these services do a poor job of sharing (those Spotify and Apple Music playlists notwithstanding) and signaling what we care about to others. Why does this matter?
Because Sharing Matters
Because one crucial part of culture is that it is shared.
Yes, we can talk about what we like on social media. But that’s scattered, has no direct connection to our passions, and isn’t always accessible to everyone. More importantly, we’re fracturing across multiple platforms these days. Some people inexplicably still use Facebook. Others tweet a lot, or permanently reside on Instagram. SnapChat leaves no trace for teens trying to get a job or a college admission, and TikTok entrances the tweens.
Maybe this all resolves in a few years, when we’re more fully ensconced in virtual/augmented reality spaces, like the Metaverse of Ready Player One and the dreams of Fortnite’s publisher. Whenever we get there, we’ll be able to highlight in digital form our favorite books, collections of music and art, or feature-length and episodic videos (will we even have “TV” or “movies” by then?).
And it still consigns us to a digital piazza for our cultural sharing, potentially reinforcing our unfortunate impulses to get ever more finicky about with whom we interact — more isolated and self-sorted and self-selected into finely sieved little teacups of humanity. We’re in danger of becoming, all of us, otaku — a Japanese term that refers to liking what we like intensely, but not having a clue about the wider world around us.
We’re likely to be more connected to some faraway online friend than the people we meet at a party, on the subway, or at a park or cafe. We’re losing something, perhaps something ineffable but still meaningful, at least for now. I hope we get it back, somehow. I really want to talk to that dude about The Replacements.
This installment of Insights is brought to you by Tipalti, automating creator payments for the video industry.