Periscope Depth

you break my heart, you blow my mind

My work laptop crashed once every dozen days, so IT replaced it this week. Tim the IT guy dropped off a Thinkpad – slimmer than the last Thinkpad, already pretty svelte – and stuck around through the Outlook install and the mail import. “Just copy anything you need off your old computer onto the shared drive,” he said, “then copy it back to your new computer. You’ll have to reinstall any programs you use, but that’s it.” And even that wouldn’t mean a loss of data, as my music, notes and files all live in the cloud. Swapping computers took all of 30 minutes.

Kathryn Lilley of The Kill Zone wrote a post last week about a dog savaging her tasty leather Kindle case and losing the ereader in the carnage. I sympathize with her loss and with the frustration she feels at having to replace the Kindle. She lost her entire library!, we think. Only she really hasn’t, because as soon as she buys and activates a new one, Amazon can restore all her old books and notes to her.

We’re reaching the era where hardware only matters as a portal to content.

This scares a lot of people. Legacy publishers scramble for ways to push the lightning back into the sky, whether by censoring the Internet, suing content creators, or shaming people who buy used games. To their frustration, none of it’s working. Very few people seem to care about the competitive feature set that the latest forms of hardware provide. Volition spent millions developing Saints Row the Third and will likely recoup all of it. Angry Birds cost scant thousands to develop. Yet people seem just as engrossed by the chirping cels of the latter as by the rich graphics and hi-def sound of the former. More engrossed, perhaps, as my mother definitely would not enjoy Saints Row the Third.

Compelling content does not cost as much to create as the entertainment industry is paying to create it. The entertainment industry is being re-educated to this fact, though I use “re-education” in the same sense the North Vietnamese did. It’s a brutal process of creative destruction that is going to cost thousands of people their jobs. Obviously they’re going to fight it. They’ve invested a lot in certain institutions – publishing houses with printing presses, video game companies with design labs, record labels with recording studios – and they’ll die to defend it.

I don’t want to go all Thomas Friedman on you. This process, like all adolescent phases, will hurt as much as it helps. Going back to Kathryn Lilley’s example above: yes, she now has the power to take her entire library with her to the park for a read, but she also runs the risk of losing her entire library (or at least losing the keys to it) if a hungry Rhodesian Ridgeback gets the scent. On the historical scale, that’s not a bad problem to have. The kind of catastrophe you’d need to suffer to lose your whole library in 2002 would probably take down some of your house and/or family with it. But that’s little consolation when you’re staring at the wreckage of your favorite piece of electronics.

Still, it’s inevitable. The First World’s demand to be entertained is effectively unlimited. Get in front of that and produce interesting content with whatever means are at your disposal and you’ll do okay. Try to interrupt it and you’ll be shocked at the force of the response.

Check out my foray into this brave new world of raw content, Too Close to Miss, which Jim Henley of Unqualified Offerings said “passes the key thriller test of ‘I stayed up later than intended to finish it.’” Download it off of Amazon, Barnes & Noble or iTunes and start reading it within seconds.

If you’ve already read the book and are down with its bold digital content, please let your friends know via Facebook, Twitter or old-fashioned word of mouth.

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